Future Issue - Social Networking: the security shakedown of shared information

February 1st 2010 - 12:00

In recent years, social networks have emerged as popular Web 2.0 applications. This has profound implications for the security realm. The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS) reviewed the nascent debate within the security foresight community on this new phenomenon and has uncovered four key security implications of social networks:

Information Security: Social networks may, unintentionally, jeopardize information security. Social networks facilitate information security risks such as privacy infringement, corporate espionage, and the spread of malware. These risks will likely be exacerbated by the increased use of social networks by individuals, organisations and governments.

Information Dissemination: Social networks introduce a new distributed and decentralised mode of communication which has only started to be explored by governments, businesses corporations, and other non-governmental organisations. An increasing number of the studies on social networks examine the role of social networks in strategic government communication which in turn may impact strategic decision-making processes on security. For example, social networks may shorten the OODA-loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) because it allows for faster decision-making using novel methods for communication. Social networks may strengthen democracy by facilitating the free flow of information and increasing transparency of government actions (thereby shifting power away from governments to populations). However, they may undermine democracy by providing a platform for conspiracy theories
whose origins and claims may be more difficult to verify for the average citizen.

Intelligence Operations: Social networks are used by individuals, corporations and government agencies to collect intelligence in various formats, such as individuals’ personal details and personal histories, their employment details information, consumer behaviour and more. This may, on the one hand, strengthen the ability of governments to monitor the behaviour of citizens while, on the other hand, it may strengthen the position of non-state actors in relation to state governments. Intelligence operations on social networks in the future may provide novel ways for individuals to influence governmental intelligence by strategically placing false information, creating deceptions, or by hacking government systems using social networks. Organisational Capabilities: Social networks may provide a powerful tool for groups of people to self-organise. This has already been demonstrated in a number of revolutions and uprisings over the past few years. Social networks’ potential to mobilise people is not restricted solely to the political domain nor is it limited to any particular geographical boundaries, and it is expected that its use will spread further in the future.

Stephan De Spiegeleire is Principal Scientist at HCSS. He has Master’s degrees from the Graduate Institute in Geneva and Columbia University in New York, as well as a C.Phil. degree in Political Science from UCLA. He worked for the RAND Corporation for nearly ten years, interrupted by stints at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik and the WEU’s Institute for Security Studies. Mr. De Spiegeleire started out as a Soviet specialist, but has since branched out into several fields of international security and defense policy. His current work at HCSS focuses on strategic defense management, security resilience, network-centrism, capabilities-based planning, and the transformation of defense planning.
Dr. Tim Sweijs is the Director of Research at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. He is the initiator, creator and author of numerous studies, methodologies, and tools for horizon scanning, early warning, conflict analysis, national security risk assessment, and strategy and capability development. Tim has lectured at universities and military academies around the world. His main research interest concerns the changing character of contemporary conflict. Tim is a Senior Research Fellow at the Netherlands Defence Academy and an Affiliate at the Center for International Strategy, Technology and Policy in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology.