When Pfc. Bradley Manning leaked sensitive U.S. government information with the help of a rewriteable CD labeled “Lady Gaga”, it foreshadowed the latest military crackdown aimed at preventing further leaks and directly affects USB digital storage.
According to Wired.com’s Danger Room, the Major General Commander of Air Force Network Operations issued an order to ban the use of removable media connected to the secret intranet used by DoD (SIPRNET). USB flash drives, CDs and DVDs fall under this ban. Individuals who don’t obey or are caught with these devices and discs are potentially subjected to a court-martial.
This is not the first time USB devices have been prohibited in a government setting. The Pentagon banned flash drives to combat the spread of the Agent.btz worm from November 2008 to this past February.
The question is, how much harm versus good will such an order accomplish? Like a military source in Wired mentioned, “it will make the job harder” without the use of flash drives. Their portability and data transfer speed is vital under deadlines or emergency circumstances, especially when proper online connectivity is unavailable. In this instance, flash drives carry information that emails cannot and they take less time to write than a disc.
The flexibility and adaptability that we all love about USB technology would equally allow smartphones and other USB devices to transform into a storage medium with the help of a USB cable. Taking that into account, the military would have to limit soldiers and personnel from using a variety of other devices as well. At that rate, where would the ban end?
Flash drives can be made into rather small or novel shapes these days and people may go to great lengths to disguise them. After all, a few gigabytes of data could be made to look like a harmless pen, piece of jewelry or other accessory.
Unfortunately, if rogue insiders are determined to distribute a leak, they will find ways to do so, USB port or not. The basic reasoning behind the ban is understandable. However, it’s like a giant government Band-Aid that may stop the current bleeding but will do little to cure the actual problem. While it may help the leak problem for the time being, it cuts off a lifeline to loyal personnel. We’ll have to wait and see how long it takes to put a more viable long term solution into practice.
Everyone has an opinion on Wikileaks. What do you make of the latest military ban? Is it the right or wrong solution to forbid flash drives?