The Culture of Convenience Threatens IT Security, Intelligence Official Says

By Matthew Harwood

That cell phone or iPod you carry around every day can easily be turned against you by any number of nefarious groups, Joel F. Brenner, national counterintelligence executive for the director of national intelligence, warned a conference on information sharing sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement last week.

According to The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus:

The thrust of his presentation was to alert the audience and the public to the vulnerability of new electronic communications devices and the growth in the number and types of groups exploiting them. 

Cellphones, he said, are great devices for sharing information, "but the mike can be turned on when you think it is off." An iPod's ear buds can be converted to a recording device when not in your ears. Brenner described thumb drives as "the electronic equivalent of unprotected sex" and the biggest source of what he calls "ETDs," or electronically transmitted diseases.

This culture of open communication doesn’t just permeate ordinary Americans but the intelligence community as well, said Brenner.

While before 9-11 government agencies failed to share critical information, the intelligence community now worries sensitive information is sent carelessly, without regard to whom may be intercepting it.

“‘The next disaster,’ he said, could ‘well be caused by our relentless push to move information before we understand where it's going, only to find later that we moved it right into the lap of a hostile foreign intelligence service or terrorist organization.’”

When cultures of convenience and security clash, Brenner said, convenience wins everytime.

Brenner reported that government network intrusions have ballooned recently, as have the introduction of malicious software and viruses. In 2006 there were 2,172 attacks; last year there were 5,499.

Brenner told the conference what he told a Silicon Valley audience last year, that there is no silver bullet, "real or imagined, that can make this problem go away."

Executives’ best bet is to train its employees in good information security practices while earning their loyalty so they can’t be compromised by outsiders, he said.


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