Maj. Gen. Richard Webber, commander of Air Force Network Operations, issued a "Cyber Control Order" on Dec. 3 which directs airmen to "immediately cease use of removable media on all systems, servers, and stand alone machines residing on SIPRNET," the Defense Department's secret network, reports Wired magazine. Similar directives have gone out to the military's other branches.
The move is probably in direct response to an earlier investigation that implicated former Army PFC Bradley Manning as the source of WikiLeaks' Iraq and Afghanistan war documents, leaked earlier this year. Manning later claimed he downloaded a trove of documents off SIPRNET onto a CD marked "Lady Gaga." Manning also claimed to have downloaded the hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables recently leaked by WikiLeaks, as well as other unknown materials.
Manning worked in the intelligence operations of the 2nd Brigade in Baghdad. He was supposed to be examining intelligence relevant to Iraq, but defense officials said he was using his "Top Secret/SCI" clearance to download classified documents, CBS News reports.
"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," the order adds.
In addition to the ban on devices that could remove documents from military computers, an August internal review suggested that the Pentagon disable all classified computers' ability to write to removable media, Wired reports. About 60 percent of military machines are now connected to a Host Based Security System, which looks for anomalous behavior.
A military source told Wired magazine the ban will make the job harder; classified computers are often disconnected from the network, or are in low-bandwidth areas. Removable media like recordable DVDs or flash drives are often the easiest way to get information from one machine to the next.
The order acknowledges that the ban will make life trickier for some troops, Wired reports.
"Users will experience difficulty with transferring data for operational needs which could impede timeliness on mission execution," the document admits. But "military personnel who do not comply … may be punished under Article 92 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice." Article 92 is the armed forces' regulation covering failure to obey orders and dereliction of duty, and it stipulates that violators "shall be punished as a court-martial may direct."
Removable drives have been banned on SIPRNET before, Wired reports. Two years ago, the Pentagon forbade the media's use after the drives and disks helped spread a relatively unsophisticated worm onto hundreds of thousands of computers. The ban was lifted this February, after the worm cleanup effort.