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Military Bans Use Of Removable Media After WikiLeaks Disclosures

The military is cracking down on the insider threat with a removable media ban, prohibiting the use of CDs and USB sticks, in an effort to prevent another WikiLeaks breach.

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The directive prohibiting removable media followed the recent publication of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables, which were leaked to whistleblower Web site WikiLeaks at the end of last month by a military insider.

According to a military order, obtained by Wired's Danger Room, soldiers are now strictly prohibited from using CDs, DVDs, USB drives and other removable media, at the risk of being court martialed, due to the perceived threat to national security.

According to a "Cyber Control Order," issued by Maj. General Richard Webber, all airmen are to "immediately cease use of removable media on all systems, servers and stand alone machines rising in SIPRNET," the Defense Department's secret cyber network. "Unauthorized data transfers routinely occur on classified networks using removable media and are a method the insider threat uses to exploit classified information. To mitigate the activity, all Air Force organizations must immediately suspend all SIPRNET data transfer activities on removable media."

However, regular tape and disk backups will continue to be used in the Secure Compartmented Information Facilities, which stores highly classified information.

The move is the U.S. military's latest effort prevent and deter insiders from stealing classified information and making it public.

Army intelligence analyst PFC Bradley Manning, 22, was charged in the leak of hundreds of thousands of classified documents from SIPRNET, reportedly saving them on a disk disguised as a Lady Gaga CD, before giving it to WikiLeaks, according to Wired.

Manning was arrested in July and charged with stealing a highly publicized but controversial video of a helicopter attack, which WikiLeaks published in April. Among other things, the video showed a 2007 Baghdad air strike perpetrated by the U.S. military that was responsible for numerous unreported innocent civilian deaths.

A former hacker and colleague subsequently exposed Manning's involvement in the video's release to WikiLeaks, reportedly after he bragged about the disclosure.

Meanwhile, saving information to USB drives, CDs and other removable media is often the easiest way to transfer data. The sudden absence of this tool will likely create challenges for the troops until other systems and procedures are developed, the order acknowledged.

"Users will experience difficulty with transferring data for operational needs which could impede timeliness on mission execution," according to the order. But "Military personnel who do not comply may be punished under Article 92 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice," which stipulates that soldiers face court martial if they deliberately fail to comply with military orders.

This is not the first time that the military has restricted removable media devices. The Pentagon issued a similar ban following an Internet worm, spread via USB devices, which infected hundreds of thousands of military computers. The ban was lifted in February.

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