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Ministry of Defence leaks counter terrorism traffic

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For the past 20 months, the Ministry of Defence has been generous enough to provide detailed information about visits to its Counter Terrorism Science & Technology site.

We're not sure, exactly, what to make of the logs showing some of the site's most popular pages and most prolific visitors. On the one hand, such details aren't exactly state secrets. Then again, what possible benefit can come from volunteering statistics that show that the Bulgarian IP address 85.187.138.185 was the top visitor for the month of March, having accessed 668 files for a total of 3.5 MB worth of data?

Until late last week, usage stats as measured by an analysis program called Webalizer were freely available from April, 2006 through this month. We're guessing the disclosure was not intentional, because the information was quickly removed about a day after MOD admins were informed of the public pages. (The information is still available in search engine caches by using search strings such as http://www.ctcentre.mod.uk/usage/usage_200604.html, http://www.ctcentre.mod.uk/usage/usage_200605.html and so on.)

Besides showing top visitors, they list some of the site's most popular pages for each month. Last month, for instance, the Counter Terrorism site had just north of 15,000 page impressions ,and its fourth most popular URL was this one relating to potential suppliers.

To be sure, disclosures such as these aren't likely to lead to the kinds of security nightmares that result when, say, a consultant "loses" a laptop containing personal information belonging to hundreds of thousands of individuals. At the same time, seeming innocuous information like this can be precisely the kind of fodder gathered in footprinting exercises, in which attackers learn as much as possible about sites they intend to penetrate. Loose lips sink ships, as the saying goes.

"I think I can reasonably say that any conventional enterprise or government entity most likely intends to have policies in place that would consider IP addresses of visitors to be information not intended to be casually shared on the public internet," says security researcher Rodney Thayer of Canola & Jones.

The MOD is by no means the only website that has made its Webalizer logs available to the world. Running this search reveals tens, possibly thousands, of sites that allow anyone to view usage statistics. NASA, the US Army and a UK Hospital are among them. ®

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