ra2studio/Shutterstock.com

What Does Your Sex Life Have to Do With Your Security Clearance?

It’s the kind of information spies would love to get.

Over the past several months we’ve been lamenting the massive data breach at the Office of Personnel Management. In the latest data breach, however, it seems federal employees and service members have no one to blame but themselves. This week’s high profile release of online information about users of Ashley Madison, an online dating site focused on extramarital affairs, included an estimated 15,000 .gov and .mil email addresses.

A few of the outed agencies include the Transportation Security Administration, the Office of Naval Intelligence and the State Department. The Washington metro area was found to have the highest concentration of users.

Several high-profile tech bloggers have been culling the data released from the Ashley Madison hack and using it to publicly out high-profile government figures -- several of whom have active federal security clearances. The fact that they’re both using a site designed for marital indiscretions and using their government-issued email addresses to do so is impropriety, stupidity and a security fiasco, all in one package.

Mixing Business and Pleasure

Historically, there has never been a ban on using your work email address for limited personal purposes. Many people use work email addresses -- including .gov and .mil addresses -- for personal uses such as setting up social media accounts, exchanging information with a spouse, or corresponding with a friend. Your annual security refresher likely gives an overview on the kinds of activities specifically prohibited via email, including anything related to elections, side businesses, or potentially prohibited activities for the federal government.

Given the nature of what Ashley Madison does, it’s no surprise some federal employees and service members opted to register using their work accounts. In comparison to personal email addresses, they’re less likely to be accessible or checked by an unknowing spouse. For federal employees with an active federal security clearance or active-duty service members, however, that attempt at discretion could spell serious problems.

Your Work Email Isn’t Private

You have no right to privacy from a workplace email address. Emails can be copied into your personnel file and potentially used in administrative action against you, as well as presented as evidence in a denial or revocation of a security clearance. For Ashley Madison users who used their work email addresses, emails from the site could be pulled and used as supporting evidence in a clearance denial based on Adjudicative Guideline D: Sexual Behavior.

What does your sex life have to do with your security clearance? Not much. Guideline D is rarely used in the denial or revocation of a security clearance. Unfortunately for Ashley Madison users, however, the rare times it is used are typically instances in which a security clearance holder or applicant was participating in an extramarital affair their spouse didn’t know about. If a clearance holder has already taken steps to hide an affair from his or her spouse (using a website that promises anonymity and discretion, using a work email a spouse doesn’t have access to, etc.), the government has reason to think that person may go to additional steps to hide the affair -- including potentially disclosing classified information if blackmail becomes an issue.

Service members have even more to be concerned about -- adultery is a cause for military punishment under the Uniform Code of Justice, and service members who cheat can face a dishonorable discharge or worse. Like clearance holders, taking steps to hide the affair only make it appear worse.

Work vs. Personal Business

The individuals whose data was disclosed in the Ashley Madison hack could have done themselves a huge favor and simply used a personal email address to sign up for the site. We can debate the morality of using the site another day -- for now, let’s simply consider the stupidity of registering using a work email address. Discretion is something seriously valued in the government and clearance community. And a key reason some are even opting out of social networking at all.

By using a work email address on the site, federal employees and service members were literally giving foreign intelligence assets a guide to their vulnerabilities -- right down to what kind of foreplay they prefer and what their ideal match looks like. All of this is made worse on a site that literally caters to extramarital affairs. The data breach includes email addresses, user names, passwords, credit cards, addresses, and a trove of personal data. It’s the kind of information a foreign intelligence agency would love to get -- and they now have it for at least some government employees, in a highly public and searchable format.

It goes without saying -- keep your work email address for work purposes, and your personal email for personal purposes. And never forget that for clearance holders, anyway, there remains a standard to stay a cut above the rest -- discretion, trustworthiness and accountability aren’t just buzzwords, they’re critical to maintaining access to classified information.

Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com and a former Defense Department employee.

(Image via ra2studio/Shutterstock.com)

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.