News / Asia

    WikiLeaks Exploits Weaknesses in Technology, Human Nature

    An employee of Korea Internet Security Center works at a monitoring room in Seoul, South Korea. There is no kill switch for the Internet for the White House. Yet when Congress was exploring ways to secure computer networks, a plan to give the president th
    An employee of Korea Internet Security Center works at a monitoring room in Seoul, South Korea. There is no kill switch for the Internet for the White House. Yet when Congress was exploring ways to secure computer networks, a plan to give the president th

    Historians, anti-war activists and armchair observers of human nature have had plenty to mull over in recent years thanks to the online group WikiLeaks.

    The Web site has published hundreds of thousands of stolen U.S. military and diplomatic documents from as recently as February of this year and as far back as the 1960s. The latest round of leaks, involving diplomatic cables, has renewed efforts by the U.S. government to tighten security on its computer systems.  But cyber-security experts point out the leaks were less a breakdown of technology than of trust.

    That fact now has the U.S. government scrambling to secure its computer networks. But Bruce Schneier, British Telecom's chief security technology officer, says even the most secure systems will still be vulnerable to human nature.

    "You could take a computer, bury it in the ground, make sure you never turn it on," Schneier says. "Don't tell anybody where it is and it's probably pretty secure. But as soon as you turn it on and have people look at it, you have to trust the people."

    Listen to Kate Woodsome's interview with Bruce Schneier


    Tightening security

    The U.S. Defense and State Departments say they are working to limit users' ability to download material onto removable media, like CDs and USB "thumb drives." And they are working to better track suspicious behavior.

    "In general, I think reducing the capabilities of the hardware is probably not the way to go," Schneier says. "Although as a temporary measure after this has already happened, it’s seems like an okay, quick solution. But long-term, it seems kind of dumb."

    He says a better solution would be to limit access to the diplomatic cables in the first place. "Make sure people who only need to know them have access to them. And make sure that people who read them, make sure an audit log record is kept."

    But that wasn't the case when U.S. Army intelligence specialist Private Bradley Manning allegedly committed one of the biggest information breaches in U.S. history while listening to Lady Gaga's hit song "Telephone." Manning says he lip-synched the words to the song while downloading a quarter-million classified diplomatic cables from the Defense Department's data network onto a Lady Gaga CD.

    If access was far more limited, as Schneier recommends, there's no way Private Manning and his Lady Gaga tunes could have touched the network and all the diplomatic cables it stored. But he did. Because at that time, government agencies were sharing more intelligence in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

    This week, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters the procedures spread information too widely.   

    Demystifying state secrets

    Instead of rolling back information sharing, says Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, the U.S. government instead should keep fewer secrets.

    "If we kept less information classified, it would be an easier, more manageable task to protect that smaller volume of information," Aftergood says. "When you start getting into tens of millions of secrets being produced every year, you can easily swamp the system and lose control precisely of what you're trying to protect."

    Listen to Kate Woodsome's interview with Steven Aftergood

    The secrecy system now in place has its roots in the Cold War, when U.S. President Harry Truman signed an executive order in 1951 establishing standards to classify and control information in the name of national security.

    But now the defense and intelligence bureaucracy is so massive that is has outgrown, and outdated, that Cold War-era system. "Information is produced and consumed and transferred in completely different ways from what was true 10, 20 or 30 years ago. And the classification system has not yet adapted to that," Aftergood says.

    Overhauling the system

    U.S. President Barack Obama says he recognizes the problem. Last year, he ordered an overhaul of how the government keeps its top secrets. In May this year, the government disclosed the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal for the first time. And in September, the director of National Intelligence and Defense Secretary Gates revealed the total intelligence budget.

    Aftergood calls the changes "momentous."

    "Government officials have resisted disclosure of this information literally for decades," he says. "And the fact that it is finally possible to get this information out into the open and do so as a standard practice means that the system is not totally calcified. It's not totally stuck in concrete."

    Still, keeping fewer secrets will not stop hackers from trying to break into secure networks.  For about 18 minutes in April, China Telecom rerouted about 15 percent of U.S. and foreign Internet traffic through Chinese servers. According to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, that traffic included communications from the U.S. government and military in a breach far greater than WikiLeaks. It is not clear how the information was, or will be, used.

    Man versus machine?

    David Gewirtz, the director of the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, says cyber-war is inevitable because it is just too easy and effective to ignore.

    "Cyber-terrorism is much more like a cancer. It just sort of eats at you from the inside as opposed to traditional terrorism, where you can actually see flames."

    Listen to Kate Woodsome's interview with David Gewirtz

    Gewirtz says the U.S. is now focused on improving its cyber-defense, but it is an uphill battle because of the sheer number of vulnerabilities. Government computer networks not only need to be protected against state-sponsored cyber attacks and rogue hackers, but also against internal threats such as Private Manning. Cheap consumer electronics like USB "thumb drives," cameras and mp3 players can turn any network user into a threat.

    "Everybody has these things, and so we have a million points of weakness instead of just one or two."

    Private Manning now sits in military custody where he faces charges of leaking classified documents. As he awaits trial, U.S. officials are left grappling with a security problem that technology alone cannot solve.

    You May Like

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    Are US Schools Turning a Blind Eye to Radical Qatari Preachers?

    Parade of radical Islamist clerics using mosque at Qatar’s Education City draws mounting criticism for American universities that maintain satellite branches there

    Why Islamic State Is Down But Not Out

    Despite loss of territory, group’s ferocious attacks over past three months seen as testimony to its continued durability and resourcefulness

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora