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The danger of data sharing

The release of a huge tranche of US diplomatic cables has laid bare the primary risk associated with the US government's attempt to encourage better information-sharing: Someone is bound to leak.

world Updated: Nov 30, 2010 00:30 IST

The release of a huge tranche of US diplomatic cables has laid bare the primary risk associated with the US government's attempt to encourage better information-sharing: Someone is bound to leak.

The US intelligence community came under heavy criticism after September 11, 2001, for having failed to share data that could have prevented the attacks. In response, officials from across the government sought to make it easier for various agencies to share sensitive information - effectively giving more analysts access to government secrets.

But on Sunday, the Web site WikiLeaks once again proved that there's a downside to better information-sharing.

"One of the consequences [of 9/11] is you gave a lot of people access to the dots," said Jeffrey H. Smith, an official. "At least one of the dots, apparently, was a bad apple."

While WikiLeaks has not identified the source of the more than 250,000 cables, suspicions have centered on an Army private, Bradley Manning, 23, who was also the suspected source of the army intelligence documents from Iraq and Afghanistan.

To prevent further breaches, the Pentagon announced Sunday it had ordered the disabling of a feature on its classified computer systems that allows material to be copied onto thumb drives or other removable devices.

A former senior intelligence official said that the answer to network breaches is not to restrict access but to improve the vetting of personnel by strengthening the clearance process.

"The fact that you've got someone exfiltrating information doesn't mean you've got a technical problem," he said. "You've got a human problem."

(In exclusive partnership with The Washington Post. For additional content from The Washington Post, visit www.washingtonpost.com)