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US orders data lock down in wake of Wikileaks release

Shuts stable door on 'largest data spillage in American history'

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The US government on Monday enacted new policies designed to prevent mass leaks similar to one rolled out over the weekend, when Wikileaks released thousands of classified diplomatic cables.

On Sunday, the Pentagon announced new procedures for the use of thumb drives. Computers that store classified data will no longer be able to write onto removable media, according to Politico. The measure was described as a “temporary technical solution” to the problem of Pentagon personnel who may move vast amounts of secret information to unclassified computer systems.

The Pentagon is also limiting the number of systems that access confidential data and to deploy a system to “monitor and detect suspicious, unusual or anomalous user behavior” that's similar to methods credit card companies use to detect fraud.

The procedures came as the White House Office of Management and Budget ordered all federal agencies to immediately review procedures in place for safeguarding sensitive data. In a directive issued Sunday, OMB director Jacob Lew called on agency heads to establish “a security assessment team” to review procedures for protecting intelligence information. Among other things, the new guidelines would ensure that employees can access sensitive data only when it's required for their jobs.

The new policies are designed to prevent the type of leaking that government investigators say they suspect of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning. According to chat logs obtained and published in June by Wired.com, Manning admitted to intentionally stealing more than 250,000 secret documents using ruses that were painfully easy to carry out.

“I would come in with music on a CD-RW labeled with something like ‘Lady Gaga,’ erase the music then write a compressed split file,” he was quoted in the logs as saying. “[I] listened and lip-synced to Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’ while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history. Weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counter-intelligence, inattentive signal analysis … a perfect storm.”

In addition to introducing policies designed to plug leaks, the Obama Administration has characterized the Wikileaks release as an attack on the United States and has promised to take aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole the information. Some politicians, including Peter King, the incoming chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, have called on Attorney General Eric Holder to categorize Wikileaks as a terrorist organization to to prosecute founder Julian Assange for espionage.

Separately, Forbes is reporting that Wikileaks' next major leak will involve “tens of thousands of documents from a major U.S. financial firm” and will happen sometime early next year.

“It will give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms, I presume,” Assange told the publication. ®

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