US Army blocks access to The Guardian. Is it to stop soldiers from knowing about PRISM leak, or…?

US ArmyAccording to reports, an army-wide ban has been placed on US soliders accessing the website of The Guardian, since the newspaper published details of the NSA’s top secret PRISM project based upon leaked documents.

Gordon Van Vleet, a spokesman for the Army Network Enterprise Technology Command, or NETCOM, told the Monterey Herald that it was normal for the Department of Defense to take preventative measures to prevent unauthorised disclosure of classified information:

"We make every effort to balance the need to preserve information access with operational security... however, there are strict policies and directives in place regarding protecting and handling classified information."

I can kind of see the US Army’s point. I mean, this was supposed to be confidential information. And just because it is being plastered across the net, and the stuff of newspaper headlines, doesn’t mean that it can be assumed to have been officially (and mightily reluctantly) declassified by the authorities.

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Any soldier who is found to have classified information on a computer that isn’t authorised to carry such data is going to be heading for the high jump, and probably going to cause some headaches for the IT team who will have to “follow-the-rules” and securely wipe the machine.

What’s more, there would have to be an investigation into what happened, and how the computer came to be carrying the classified information – and military rules are probably going to be pretty black-and-white that it doesn’t matter *what* the content is, or how freely available it is. What matters is whether it is still considered classified or not.

And we all know that the army is nothing if not rules-driven.

So, although it’s easy to smirk and giggle and perhaps even be a little outraged that US soldiers aren’t able to read stories online about the PRISM leak like the rest of us, it might actually be the most pragmatic solution to a complex problem.

This isn’t about not being comfortable with soldiers knowing about the PRISM leak. This is about not having classified information on non-authorised devices. After all, the soldiers are still allowed to watch television and read newspapers I assume?

The filtering systems which are blocking US soldiers’ access to The Guardian are probably similar to those that many companies have to block access by workers to offensive content, productivity drains like gambling or online games, or malicious parts of the web that have a history of harbouring exploits and drive-by attacks.

It’s *good* that organisations have some protection in place to keep staff working effectively, and technology to protect workers and the company’s interests. I’ll bet the authoritaries are rueing that they didn’t have better security in situ to prevent Edward Snowden seemingly snaffled classified information in the first place.

Woah! Stop the presses! In other news that US soldiers perhaps shouldn’t be allowed to read, it has been revealed that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s dad. (They’re never going to believe the stuff about Princess Leia and Luke, so I won’t even mention that)

Do you agree? Do you think I’m wrong? Have your say in the comments below!

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

One comment on “US Army blocks access to The Guardian. Is it to stop soldiers from knowing about PRISM leak, or…?”

  1. Philllip Gresham

    The background is that this will prevent inadvertent hits for classified information on unclassified systems. Because the information is available on the Internet (whether or not it has been declassified,) the recommended method on Microsoft Windows (TM) is to press shift-delete to bypass the recycle bin, and then notify your security manager. No word on what actions to take for other operating systems.

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