LONDON (NNS) -- Within the Navy, the odds of making it through boot camp without hearing 'Loose Lips Sink Ships' are improbable. Though the slogan is old, it still embodies the basic principle of Operational Security, or OPSEC.
OPSEC is a multi-faceted concept that strives to prevent the inadvertent compromise of sensitive or classified activities, capabilities or intentions. According to Gunnery Sgt. Fred Wilson, assistant OPSEC officer and OPSEC program manager at Navy Europe Headquarters in London, OPSEC involves a relatively simple five-step process that anyone can use.
- Identify critical information. The information you have that could assist an adversary in any way.
- Analyze the threat to that information. Does an adversary have the capability to collect or use the information, and if so, how?
- Analyze the vulnerabilities. How is the critical information relayed in the course of your daily duties and how is it protected?
- Assess the risk. How likely is it that the information could be compromised?
- Develop countermeasures. What can you do to protect the information from being disclosed?
"These steps should be taken from the adversary's perspective," said Wilson. "In order to catch a bad guy, you have to think like one."
Wilson explained that OPSEC requires the active participation of every servicemember, regardless of his or her rank or job. He added that the best defense is educating people through annual required training on how to protect critical information.
"It's a combination of people knowing what information is considered sensitive and then knowing when to shut their mouth," Wilson said.
To put OPSEC in perspective, Wilson said he has seen Sailors and Marines go to extreme lengths to protect information about things such as surprise birthday parties and promotion lists, yet discuss details of their work freely and openly.
"We need to take that same mindset and apply it to our everyday job," said Wilson.
One of OPSEC's worst enemies, Wilson said, is convenience. Making the job efficient may increase productivity, but easier isn't always better. The path of least resistance, while the easiest to travel, usually offers the least amount of protection.
"The combination of secure communications and physical security, if used consistently and properly, greatly reduce the risk of disclosure," said Wilson.
Walking to another office to speak face-to-face with someone is more secure than talking on a regular phone. When this is not possible, secure communication equipment include secure email, telephone and fax machines. No matter which method is use, servicemembers should hold conversations using a secure medium.
"These procedures are put in place for a reason," said Wilson. "If the information is not instantaneously available to you then it's shouldn't be readily available to a potential adversary."
Wilson offered these simple guidelines. Avoid talking about work away from the office. Be aware of your immediate surroundings at all times and who is in the area. Also keep in mind that what is not being said can be information in itself.
"The mere fact that a person is trying talk around a subject will actually raise interest in what is being said and could give clear direction for someone to focus their attention," said Wilson.
Whether on or off work, a Sailor's safest bet is to assume nothing.
"Just because a person has a clearance for certain levels of information does not necessarily mean they have the need to know that information," said Wilson.
Communication comes in many forms, not just verbal and written. Routines and habits also need to be considered with OPSEC in mind. Wilson explained that what seems innocent or insignificant can in fact be a piece of a much larger puzzle.
"A classic example is the increase of pizza delivery at the White House and Pentagon prior to the onset of Operation Desert Storm. We need to think three or four layers down."
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