Government Agencies Need to Comply with Directive

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Danny Lieberman

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Yes – there is apparently a White House directive to keep WikiLeaks documents off Federal networks – according to a directive from the White House Office of Management & Budget on the treatment of classified documents.

(Reuters) – The United States said on Monday that it deeply regretted the release of any classified information and would tighten security to prevent leaks such as WikiLeaks’ disclosure of a trove of State Department cables.

More than 250,000 cables were obtained by the whistle-blower website and given to the New York Times and other media groups, which published stories on Sunday exposing the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy, including candid and embarrassing assessments of world leaders.

The U.S. Justice Department said it was conducting a criminal investigation of the leak of classified documents and the White House, State Department and Pentagon all said they were taking steps to prevent such disclosures in future.

While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she would not comment directly on the cables or their substance, she said the United States would take aggressive steps to hold responsible those who “stole” them.

In the directive, federal agencies were informed that employees and federal contractors must avoid viewing and/or downloading classified documents that have been leaked via WikiLeaks disclosures. As the information on WikiLeaks is still classified, even if it’s in the public domain, a federal government employee electronically viewing the information from or downloading the information to devices connected to unclassified networks “risks that material still classified will be placed on non-classified systems”

NOTICE TO EMPLOYEES AND CONTRACTORS CONCERNING SAFEGUARDING OF CLASSIFIED INFORMATION AND USE OF GOVERNMENT INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY SYSTEMS”, Office of Management and Budget, December 3, 2010.

Data security vendor Fidelis Security Systems has announced that they will provide policies in their Network DLP product. Fidelis XPS to help ensure that employees cannot view or download classified documents.

Fidelis XPS is extremely powerful technology for high speed (in excess of 2.5GB) content interception and analysis in real time of data entering or leaving a network.  

With all due respect to the power of Fidelis technology, the White House Directive is nonsense.  It’s more security theater, not security countermeasures, designed to show that the administration is “doing something”.

The directive is nonsense for a number of reasons:

a) Requiring employees and federal contractors to avoid viewing and/or downloading classified documents that have been leaked via WikiLeaks disclosures is like saying – “well, you will have to disconnect yourself from the Internet, from Facebook, From Gmail and your smart phone”.   It’s not a practical strategy, since it’s impossible to enforce.

b) The network vector is almost certainly not how the information was leaked. The Wikileaks documents are provided by trusted insiders that have motive (dislike Obama or Clinton), means (physical, electronic or social access) and opportunity (no one is watching).   There is little utility (besides appearing to be doing something) to install network DLP technology to prevent employees from viewing or downloading.

c) And finally it’s nonsense because the OMB directive talks about viewing and downloading documents and not about leaking.

If the White House is serious about preventing more leaks they should start by firing Secretary Clinton.

Then again – perhaps the WikiLeaks documents were all leaked under tacit direction from the White House.  Since President Obama has a pattern of sticking it to US friends (Israel, Czech Republic, Poland) whatever embarrassment it might cause friendly allies is more than worth the price of issuing a worthless OMB directive.

Cross-posted from Israeli Software

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