DOD: Restriction on social networking sites purely operational

Defense Department officials defended today their decision to cut off troops’ access to popular social-networking Web sites, such as YouTube and MySpace, through military computers, saying the potential impact on the Global Information Grid was tremendous. They added that they are being proactive, not reactive, to the problem.

Rear Adm. Elizabeth Hight, Defense Information Systems Agency vice director, said that although DOD had blocked troops’ access in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past two to four years, the directive issued by the Joint Task Force Global Network Operations extends the order worldwide.

“We did a trend analysis and looked at the highest volume between DOD and the Internet, and that is how we came up with these sites,” Hight said. “The activity in MySpace and other sites involve newer technology, and we are also seeing a growth of this new technology for official use, and we cannot handle the growth for official use and recreation use at the same time.”

Hight emphasized that DOD is not interested in stopping soldiers from using the sites. But they must do it through commercial networks. DOD readily makes commercial access points available for warfighters worldwide, usually at no cost, she added.

The use of such sites in the past six to nine months has grown through military networks, and DOD officials were concerned that the available bandwidth would decrease at critical times.

“This type of technology is a bandwidth hog compared to text, and that is a huge challenge for us,” Hight said. “It’s hard to determine how much bandwidth it is using because we have 5 million computers worldwide.”

Hight added that the operational security issue was a big part of the decision. She said there has been no hacking or attacks through social-networking sites, but officials are concerned about the potential.

“We looked at a variety of options, and with the scale of the problem, we couldn’t find a technical solution of the range we have to deal with,” Hight said.

Hight said warfighters can use the Army Knowledge Online Web portal, which DISA is transforming into the Defense Knowledge Online portal in the next two years. AKO offers e-mail, video messaging and live chats, she added.

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