Washington, we have a problem - our IT stinks
Here’s a positive spin on the Wikileaks revelations. Far from being a disaster for the US Government, it could turn out to be a piece of radical penetration testing that tells the security admins they have a big job on their hands.They are,...
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They are, the world now knows, gathering huge volumes of sensitive data, making that available to lowly intelligence officers, who are able without hindrance to send that data to a small websites most people had barely heard of until earlier this year.
The US government and military buys state-of-the-art security hardware and software invented by the brightest minds in Silicon Valley and beyond but none of it made a jot of difference when a single individual decided to bust the system from the inside.
Incredibly, the ‘inside’ turns out to mean tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of people, so many in fact you wonder whether the Russians and Afghans and Pakistanis might already have their own guest accounts.
The difference between accused leaker Bradley Manning and the average spy? Manning sent his data scraping to a website that wanted what he had done to be made public.
The US government knows this but isn’t allowed to admit it, hence the almost ‘Sputnik is in orbit’ panic that seems to have gripped officials in recent weeks. In truth, they probably feel wearied by Wikileaks but have to appear horrified because what would people think if they weren’t?
We know this stuff gets around rival security services, you ‘the public’ suspect that this stuff gets around rival security services (because whose IT systems are secure anyway), but for your sake we will feign horror and surprise that the whole pretence has been blown at an inconvenient moment.
The whole affair is reminiscent of the infamous 2007 HM Revenue and Customs CD loss, in which the details of millions of child benefit claimants in the UK were mislaid on CDs. At the time, it brought home to people that huge numbers of ordinary state workers had access to confidential data as part of their jobs, and how careless it was therefore to post it around the country on 10p media.
The Wikileaks cables and other leak events tell the world that the US government now has a similar problem in the way it gathers vast amounts of data to help sharing without factoring in the risk this poses. It has only itself to blame.
None of this has much bearing on the moral issues raised by the leaking of data. Perhaps, in fact, the fact the democracies tend to suffer these leaks in public is a good thing. Diplomacy and foreign affairs are governed by lakes of bullshit and giving citizens some insight into this does no harm. They are the ones paying for it and the pretences and banalities it throws up are not theirs.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of these cables, and without wanting to indulge in cheap cynicism, they undeniably lay bare the waste, mendacity, political mismanagement and supreme banality of the US and other western diplomatic services, but we suspected as much already. That’s one problem IT can't help with.
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