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Reconciling Collaboration and Security in the Social Media Space

August 15, 2008
by Helen Thompson

As new media and the phenomenon of Web 2.0 continue to evolve at lightning speed, one new term that seems to have some staying power is “social media.” And as social media becomes more popular with people of all ages, agencies must take a closer look at one-size-fits-all technology policies that create barriers to collaboration within these media spaces.

Advocates for open networks say the issue is one of effective leadership and training rather than technology, while critics point out the all-too-real security concerns that are of particular interest to defense workers and warfighters. That tension between collaboration and security will be part of the focus of next month’s AFCEA SOLUTIONS Series: Information Assurance and is part of an emerging conversation taking place on the blogosphere.

Bob Gourley, chief technology officer, Crucial Point LLC, uses Web 2.0 platforms regularly. He has written extensively about using social media in the collaborative space—with an eye on national security planning—on his blog.

Gourley acknowledges that the need to mitigate risk is a significant issue, but he emphasizes the unique nature of the collaboration that takes place on the Internet and how it “accelerates good ideas.” One advantage he mentions is the ability to outsource—or actually, “crowdsource”—the discovery of information to various individuals who bring new information to your attention. “These others can be crowds, random individuals, fields of experts or trusted friends,” Gourley says. “Which of these you leverage can vary from subject to subject or task to task.”

Bob Lentz, deputy assistant secretary of defense for information and identity assurance, observes that as many agencies acclimate to online collaboration, they are trying to get the best of both worlds: establish Internet-like collaboration mechanisms in environments more protected than the Internet. “It’s important to note that information sharing and security are not in opposition, with one coming at the expense of the other. Instead, the goal of security regarding sharing is to enable the kinds of sharing we want and to prevent the kinds we don’t want,” he adds.

Lentz, who will participate in a SOLUTIONS panel, says technological solutions should complement rather than replace outright effective management of well-crafted social media policies. For instance, allowing warfighters to leverage social media to better stay in touch with their loved ones is good for morale. But, he continues, education and leadership is important to help warfighters prevent missteps in information handling by sharing information that could compromise their safety or their mission.

But while traditionally, the technology leg of that stool has focused on blocking potentially harmful or disruptive Internet content, Lentz notes that a more effective pursuit would be finding ways to better protect shared information. “The more capable our technology, the more flexible and agile our information sharing policy can be,” he says.

And for every door agencies have to close in social media platforms because of security risks, Lentz acknowledges they must find ways to make the same kinds of collaboration possible through these new technologies. The end result, says Lentz, is that it may be no longer possible to say no to social media. But even though the answer more closely resembles “not yet,” it’s closer to a conversation in its own right—one that begins, “Let’s pause for a moment and determine the best way to weigh the risk with the operational need.”

The next SOLUTIONS event takes place September 9-10 at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, Washington, D.C. Registration for the event is available online.