After ISIS threats, some military moms rethink social media life

Molly Blake

Some military spouses are covering up their online footprints after a group calling itself the "Islamic State Hacking Division" circulated a "kill list" which included names and home addresses of 100 U.S. service members, along with encouragement to target them for violence on American soil.

The list itself was quickly removed and the site it was posted on has been shut down for weeks, according to Flashpoint Intelligence, a global security firm and NBC News consultant. There is no proof that the group actually broke into any databases to get the information it spread. According to reports, the names and addresses may have been gathered from public websites and social media profiles. And while the list was retweeted heavily by jihadists, it didn't get much attention on password-protected major jihadi web forums.

Despite this, some current Facebook devotees are worried and taking action.

Marine Corps spouse Hilda Diviney clamped down privacy settings on her social media accounts, deleted unused apps and made sure no personal information was visible. The mother of two also peeled the Marine Corps wings sticker off her car, stowed pepper spray in her handbag and remains extra vigilant when out in public.

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Though none of the sources NBC interviewed were on the list, nor members of their family, several took steps to safeguard their online profiles.

An Arizona-based Marine Corps spouse, who didn't feel comfortable giving out her name, shut down her Facebook page. Another spouse with deep family ties to the military is now using just her first name on her Facebook account.

At play dates and over coffee, many, like Sarah B., a military spouse who didn't want NBC news to use her full name, discussed their personal online footprints and how easily they too could be targets. "It's disturbing," said the mother of two toddlers.

"Knowing it could have been my husband on that list is creepy," she said.

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For others, the threats are making them think twice before publishing a status update.

"If a simple 'Go Navy, Beat Army' post could be enough to gain the attention of ISIS members bent on harming noncombatants, then maybe it's not worth it," said one formal Navy officer, the wife of a Marine.

Stephanie Himel-Nelson, a Virginia-based digital media strategist and the wife of a Navy veteran, offered several pieces of advice. For one, skip using a fake name as it creates a false sense of security. Instead, lock down accounts that contain personal information or family photos and don't accept friend requests from people you don't know. If you aren't sure what you've made public over the years on Facebook, hide all past posts on Facebook via the security settings via Facebook's Privacy Basics link.

In addition, consider either switching public Twitter or Instagram accounts to a private setting or don't post any personal information. Also, review the privacy settings on children's accounts and Google your name to see what appears in the feed.

Meanwhile, not everyone takes the threats seriously, with some service members posting mocking messages on social media, daring any Islamic State sympathizers to knock on their doors.

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One image features an image of group of black ISIS-style fighters with the caption, "We are coming to kill you." Below it is an image of armed forces members posing with guns, bearing the caption, "Hurry, we eat chow at 1630."

There are also no signs so far of the "leaks" provoking any attacks, according to a Pentagon spokesman. "Investigative and law enforcement personnel monitoring the situation have presented no evidence of an imminent or credible stateside threat to our personnel," said Marine spokesman Lieutenant Colonel John Caldwell.

"It is recommended Marines and family members check their online/social footprint, ensuring privacy settings are adjusted to limit the amount of available personal information," he added.

Diviney says she's not frightened personally by threats from the militant group but that doesn't mean she's going to act recklessly.

"It's like locking the doors to your home or car," said Diviney. "I still travel and enjoy my life but I am just protecting myself and my family."

By Molly Blake,
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