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Source: ĘCNN.com

Posted on December 14, 2010

The Pentagon is still tinkering with how far to clamp down on computer security as the steady drumbeat of WikiLeaks revelations reminds the top brass what's at stake.

The newly created Cyber Command, which just came up to full speed this fall, has sent out a directive calling for drastic restrictions on the use of portable devices that could download secret files.

The individual services now are following up with their own rules. For instance the Air Force sent out a Cyber Control Order in recent days sharply curtailing use of DVDs and portable devices to download information from the Defense Department secret computer system, SIPRNet (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network).

"By order of the AFNETOPS (Air Force Network Operations) Commander, cease use of all removable media devices on SIPRNet system, including stand-alone workstations, to write/download and transfer data," the Air Force order said, according to excerpts provided to CNN. "Flash media -- a.k.a. "thumb drive" -- remains unauthorized ..." the order continues.

A new buddy-system procedure is required to get a waiver, meaning information can only be downloaded to portable devices with special prior approval and "using the two person integrity procedures to reduce insider threat." The new waiver procedures are a nod to a widespread concern in the military in recent weeks that the military will restrict computer access too far and undercut necessary flow of information.

A U.S. Cyber Command official told CNN that the recent Communications Tasking Order shows just how seriously officials are taking the WikiLeaks document dumps.

"It is definitely a concern of the senior leadership," the official said. "The ability to download information from classified networks is now under more rigid requirements in that authority has to be granted and supervised at a senior leader level and the proper credentialing must occur." The official insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the super-secret agency.

The military says its computer systems are probed daily by outsiders trying to hack their way in and disrupt Pentagon communications. But these latest restrictions in the aftermath of the WikiLeaks losses are a reminder of how vulnerable the systems were to an inside job.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said Friday new rules have to allow exceptions. "There is no outright ban," Lapan said at his regular question session with journalists. "We have talked about restrictions on using DVD drives, etcetera on the classified system, but since there are valid reasons to have to use that, it won't be a complete ban. It will be heavily restricted and controlled."

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is in military custody as the sole suspect in the WikiLeaks case, charged with downloading hundreds of hundreds of thousands of classified military and State Department cables.

And whle these latest orders focus on hardware, such as flash drives and DVD donwloads, the military also is pushing ahead with a security overhaul of its software, separate from the latest restrictions on portable downloads. Those system-wide changes are expected to be in place by the end of the year, officials say, and include new ways of remotely monitoring and stopping someone from downloading massive amounts of data.

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