Army silences computers
- By Dan Verton
- Mar 26, 2000
The Army plans to modify its PC and laptop contracts to include a special
security device that automatically disables integrated microphones that
hackers could use to listen to classified or sensitive conversations.
The Army's Small Computer Program, which oversees more than three dozen
contracts for PCs, laptops and software, recommends that users working in
classified programs purchase a new National Security Agency-approved security
device with all PC and laptop buys.
The device, known as an Erase Plug or Short Erase Plug, plugs into laptops
and PCs and disables the system's microphone without causing any irreparable
damage to the circuitry. The device also is available for about $3 from
most major electronics stores.
The Army last month issued a memorandum instructing all users to take
whatever measures necessary to eliminate the security risks posed by multimedia
desktop computers and laptops that are connected to Army networks.
Phillip Loranger, chief of the Command and Control Protect Division
at the Army's Information Assurance Office, recently demonstrated how hackers
are able to hack into systems and intercept conversations and live video
via microphones and video cameras.
Loranger said the tools have been widely available for almost 10 years
and enable hackers to listen in on conversations at up to 10 megabits/sec
and view compressed images from video cameras.
Yvonne Jackson, program manager for the Army Small Computer Program,
said users can use the device to disable the microphone without having to
tinker with the system's internal circuitry. Most warranties strictly forbid
opening computer systems and performing self-maintenance and repairs.
"It's an inexpensive device that won't damage the system," said Jackson,
saying that it should be added to all SCP contracts within the next few
Although the existing policy "encourages" all users who work in classified
or sensitive areas to buy the device, Loranger, speaking recently at the
Army's annual Directors of Information Management Conference, hinted at
making the device mandatory. When the Army demonstrated to NSA in January
the hacker threat posed by microphones, "it upset them so badly" that all
contracts may soon be modified, he said.