published Monday, November 26th, 2012

Should spies use Gmail?

In light of the Gmail-related scandal involving former CIA chief David Petraeus, one has to wonder if, given the relative ease by which an intelligence agency — or just about anybody — can break into a private email account, government officials entrusted with the nation's most sensitive information should be allowed to keep personal email accounts while in office.

True, Petraeus' email was never actually broken into or hacked by the FBI. Agents gained access to his naughty notes by monitoring Paula Broadwell's email and then asking Broadwell if she was having an affair with Petraeus. She fessed up and gave them access to her computer and with it, even more of his emails. Nevertheless, the very revelation that our nation's top spy used at least one relatively unsecure Gmail account has prompted people to raise the above question.

Many reporters have been surprised when a top military or intelligence officer would reply to emails from an AOL account or something equally pedestrian. It just seems a little odd that people with access to incredible secrets use the same email services the rest of us do.

If hacked, these emails could reveal plenty about the personal lives of their owners who hold high office. Hackers probably wouldn't find state secrets, but they could find plenty of personal information -- travel plans, info about friends and family, online purchases, bank accounts, the list goes on and on. As Google knows for business purposes, a look at someone's email can paint a pretty valuable picture of who they are. Google uses this information to sell ads tailored to your interests. You can imagine what spies would do with it.

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328Kwebsite said...

Personal email accounts are commonly required for ordinary commercial transactions. It is not to the advantage of government or individual citizens to use a NIPRNET address to log on to eBay, some bank's website, or the Times-Free Press.

Banning public email accounts would be detrimental to communications and ineffective at stopping problems similar to the one Gen. Petraeus experienced. Petraeus' main problem was that he could have been manipulated because of his own reaction to his own conduct. That's a more sophisticated security matter than noted in the editorial.

The OPSEC principles involved in determining if a Gmail account would be appropriate for common use include: need to know and material concern. Does someone else need to know that a person has access to communication that should be classified? Does the communication have enough material influence to need labeling as unclassified, or is it insignificant?

If a communication does not provide utility to the organization, then it's not appropriate to use classified resources for it. If we followed the communications policy recommended in the editorial, tens of thousands of Soldiers would have their grocery lists classified as SECRET or higher.

Please, wake up and think things through before publishing editorials.

There are provisions in place banning or restricting the use of social media sites over the Internet. Perhaps you could research existing laws before writing an editorial for a newspaper. A Google search for "dod directives internet" provides results which immediately lead to a document on from the Department of Defense's Chief Information Officer as DOD Instruction 8550.01. You might find it enlightening.

Imagine the embarrassment you could save yourself in these editorials if you tried to do some research before transmitting. If you thought things through before you used the Internet, then maybe we could imagine what informed readers could do with this editorial advice.

November 26, 2012 at 6:37 a.m.
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