Center for Strategic Communication

U.S. and Australian troops during a 2010 computer training exercise. Photo: Australian Ministry of Defense

U.S. and Australian troops during a 2010 computer training exercise. Photo: Australian Ministry of Defense

Tech-savvy Talibs have posed as pretty girls on Facebook to lure Australian troops into giving away military secrets. That’s one disturbing — but not totally surprising — conclusion of a recent Aussie government review of military social media usage.

After all, this sort of thing has happened before.

“The Taliban have used pictures of attractive women as the front of their Facebook profiles and have befriended soldiers,” the March review warned, according to the Australian Website

Soldiers “did not recognize that people using fake profiles … could capture information and movements,” the review found.

Canberra is particularly sensitive to tracking and infiltration by extremists after an apparent Afghan army trainee killed three Australian troops in southern Afghanistan earlier this month — part of a wave of insider attacks.

The U.S. Army learned about insurgents’ social media tactics the hard way in 2007, when soldiers in Iraq uploaded photos of Apache gunship helicopters — photos that included embedded GPS data. “The enemy was able to determine the exact location of the helicopters inside the compound and conduct a mortar attack, destroying four of the AH-64 Apaches,” the Army admitted this year.

“Many individuals who use social media are extremely trusting,” the Australian report concluded. Soldiers approve friend requests from strangers, “overtly” relying on the privacy settings to protect them. The settings, which do not remove all useful data and in any event can change unannounced, create “a false sense of security,” the report stated.

But even savvy netizens can get duped. Just ask U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis, the top NATO officer — a.k.a., Supreme Allied Commander Europe, or SACEUR. Stavridis is an avid Facebook and Twitter user who has dragged many of his senior-ranking peers into social media.

But a few of Stavridis’ pals ended up friending fake Facebook accounts set up in the admiral’s name. “There have been several fake SACEUR pages,” the alliance pointed out. At least one of them was reportedly set up by Chinese spies in an effort to gather personal details about Stavridis and other high-ranking Western officials.

It’s not clear that the Chinese hackers have learned anything useful about Stavridis, or that the Taliban has attacked Australian troops based on Facebook intel. But these were only opening salvos in the social media wars. The next acts of digital espionage could inflict real damage.