Wikileaks Fiasco Exposes Gaping Holes in Cyber Domain

By Kevin Coleman
Defense Tech Cyber Warfare Analyst

Is the Wikileaks fiasco the first defeat for the United States in the cyber warfare domain? Exploring this question shows just how little we have planned for, created doctrine for, and are ready, able and willing to respond to threats to the United States in the cyber domain.

Interesting Data Points:

• General Keith Alexander, the newly appointed head of Cyber Command and Director of the National Security Agency who is now responsible for all military information and communications security, traveled to Afghanistan just two days after the Wikileaks first dump of classified data on their web site.

• We polled several security professional (several with active security clearances) as to the severity of this incident. On a scale of 1 being low and 5 being high, the impromptu survey resulted in a score of 4.2 – a rather concerning score you would have to say.

• Lt. Gen William Lord, Air Force Chief Information Officer (CIO) also serves as Air Force chief of warfighting integration last week spoke at LandWarNet 2010 and said, “Wire power is firepower.”

• Many people looking at this issue wonder why we just don’t hack and take down the site. That is short cited and would only inflame the situation. Others wonder if one or more members of the security organization of the countries mentioned in these documents are looking for those involved and question if we will hear from them again.

Planning for and response to cyber threats is a complex international issue with little or no empirical information. Tehran Times published the following – “The drumbeat of calls for repression and violence against WikiLeaks and Private Bradley Manning is a major threat to democratic rights. All sections of the U.S. political establishment, Democratic and Republican, liberal and conservative, are seeking to retaliate against those who are exposing atrocities by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq, and intimidate all critics of these wars of aggression by American imperialism.”

We can only hope this is used as a learning experience by our military, intelligence community and Cyber Command and they rapidly address ALL issues this serious breach has brought to light.

  • Chops

    Better to learn the weakness in the systems now than later–at least we should be able to plug the leak soon.

  • Mark

    Currently, it’s like the fox guarding the hen house. If supervisors did their most basic of skills, like knowing their workers, I bet they could get the tell tale signs of someone who is a security risk. Better safe then sorry!

    • Exactly. From what I’ve read, Manning possessed all the signs of a security risk.

  • William C.

    Sadly we can’t really reverse the leak. But that good for nothing arrogant troop hating leftist scumbag owner of Wikileaks should be punished and put in his place. I can’t tolerate these people who actively try to portray our soldiers as criminals.

  • Mitch S.

    Cyber warfare defeat?

    Was “The Pentagon Papers” leak a cyber warfare incident? Uh, no…
    Well this is no different except the classified info was published online instead of in a newspaper.

    Unless there’s new info I’m unaware of, the source of the leak had clearance to access the docs. Wikileaks did not hack into DOD or State computers and steal the docs.

    Not surprised to see Cyber Command and private consultants glom onto this to seek budget increases and more business.

  • Drake1

    Lack of security protocols on the inside for acquiring classified information. Isn’t cyber command designed primarily for outside threats- not internal?

  • Kevin

    When Does Electronic Espionage or a Cyber Attack – “Act of War”


  • ohwilleke

    Leaks are caused by neither hackers nor spies. The classic leak is a response to a perceived cover up or misconduct by higher ups that has been allowed to continue. They are tools of intramural bureaucratic warfare by loyal, patriotic people, not efforts to harm national security.

    No security protocols can defeat this kind of inside job by someone who is trying to do what they see as the right thing, at a time when a public debate about the important issues isn’t taking place for lack of information.

    The best way to prevent leaks is to make it easier to anonymously present criticism to inside oversight that takes it seriously, and to keep secret only information that needs to be kept secret rather than instinctively keeping everything confidential.

    A sustained, widespread secrecy is not one of the military advantages of democratically ruled superpowers. A nation like the United States has to use strategies that work even when the other side can discover what they are. We aren’t a small country like Israel, and we aren’t an authoritarian country like Soviet Russia, and can’t run our defense-intelligence establishment the same way.

  • Oblat

    If you have been reading Kevin long enough you know that anything involving electricity is cyberwar. For instance if your toaster oven blows up: that’s cyberwar.

    What he won’t tell you is that consultants like him are by far the highest security risk and the source of by far the most leaks. History has shown that the single greatest improvement you can make to security is to get rid of the people who’s primary loyalty is to the $.

    • William C.

      And your ideal 100% state run defense industry with no outside contractors or consultants would be equally at risk of leaks as we have seen with this event.

      • shawn1999

        Except he said to get rid of all (gov or contractor) whose loyalty is to the dollar. In other words, he is including the the guy who keeps complaining about poor government pay too. Need those who are doing the job for Family & Country- because they love the country and their families (though then you still have risk of coercion, but at least it no longer depends on who can pay the most)

  • Mitch S.

    Kevin, I read the article you linked to.
    It deals with the question of when an act of cyber-espionage crosses the line and becomes an act of cyber-war.
    The author defines cyber-espionage this way:

    “There is no official definition for
    electronic espionage, but IT could easily be defined as the use
    of electronic techniques such as computers, phones, wiretaps,
    etc., in order to conduct spy activities.”

    The author uses China’s hacking of Google’s computers as his example.
    Perhaps if Google has stronger electronic data protection China couldn’t have wormed it’s way in.

    As I noted above, this Wikileaks incident does not meet the definition of cyber-espionage, much less cyber-warfare.
    Electronic techniques were not used to extract the info. A human recovered the info from electronic storage using the standard means (which he was given access to).
    The strongest electronic firewall cannot protect data from someone with a valid password.

    If I run someone over with a car it’s vehicular homicide. If I stab someone in the back seat of a car it’s homicide but not vehicular homicide.

    • Technolytics

      You hit at the hear of the issue I have been blogging about for years. There is an absence of of formal terms and definitions for cyber terrorism, cyber war, cyber attack and cyber espionage. I believe that making copies of US classified materials and giving them to anyone outside the United States or perhaps the United nations is an act of espionage because of the information they contain and the resulting damage.

      You also hit another key point – A human recovered the info from electronic storage using the standard means (which he was given access to). Where we differ is in my opinion and the opinion of several others, all active clearances fell that if you copy a digital file on to a CD that is an electronic function. I would further state that I believe there is case law that would backup this interpretation. What is so perplexing to me is what the hell ever happened to compartmentalization? That was to isolate, control and protect classified data – if that were in place, how did the soldier ever access such a broad swath of classified data?

  • Didn’t you hear? He and his country are on the U.N. council for Women’s rights. They’re a liberal democracy now.