Boutelle: Army has tight IM security

The Defense Department is unlikely to have any instant messaging scandals similar to the one that embroiled Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.). In the armed forces, misuse of online chatting doesn't just run the risk of personal embarrassment; it’s an issue of national security.

DOD has a strict IM policy consisting of constant monitoring, prevention of the use of unapproved programs and enforcement of strict discipline when abuses are reported.

Army Chief Information Officer Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle outlined for reporters how the service enforces that policy Oct. 11 at the Association for the U.S. Army conference in Washington, D.C.

The service scrubs hard drives automatically to remove any unapproved downloaded software, he said. Also, the Army has blocked Internet ports that route traffic from sites that provide IM services.

“In my office, if I boot AOL Web based, I can do e-mail, but the minute I hit instant messaging, nothing happens, because those ports are blocked,” Boutelle said.

Even high-level officials such as general officers are not exempt from the rules. “Mine gets checked like everybody else,” he said.

Chat rooms are popular and needed tools for military communications. Consequently, they are constantly monitored for inappropriate content. But even simple policies head off problems, Boutelle said.

For example, in an Army chat room, your user name is the same as your Army e-mail address. This prevents deception and ensures accountability, Boutelle said. Also, users can report offensive messages by clicking a button on the chat screen. Three such reports will result in a user being kicked off the system.

The Army realizes IM technology is ubiquitous and must be managed correctly, Boutelle said. “People will be people, and we want to make sure they get utility out of it but they don’t abuse the system,” he said. “There’s two sides to this pervasiveness of information.”

The Army allows users access only to Bantu, a secure messaging program, through its Army Knowledge Online portal. Two years ago, the service disallowed the use of AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger, ICQ and other programs, Boutelle said.

Eventually, all DOD users will be migrated over to IBM’s Lotus Sametime suite of collaboration tools, which can be accessed through the Defense Information Systems Agency Web portal.

The Joint Task Force, Global Network Operations, oversees coordination of DOD’s IM policy.


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