Reports: Information leaked about Marine One

Sensitive information about Marine One, President Barack Obama’s helicopter, was leaked through file-sharing software on a contractor’s computer, according to media reports.

The incident is another example of how human behavior is one of the biggest challenges to securing data and networks, said Laurent Duperval, a communications consultant.

An employee using peer-to-peer software to share music files on a workplace computer is a typical security flaw, Duperval said.

“Peer-to-peer is a useful tool for file sharing, but organizations must educate their employees on [its] proper use,” he said.

Organizations should decide whether to allow peer-to-peer software, and if they do, they must teach employees how to control which files the software can access.

“It's all about education and proper controls,” Duperval said. “If users are not educated properly and adequate controls are not installed and updated regularly, these types of errors will always come back.”

The unapproved use of peer-to-peer software is common, according to a study conducted by Palo Alto Networks, a provider of firewall technology. The company analyzed the traffic flowing across 60 companies’ networks and found that 92 percent of them had at least one instance of peer-to-peer file sharing.

In some cases, the company found as many as 12 variants of peer-to-peer software. In all cases, when asked if such software was allowed, the customers said no.

Peer-to-peer software can bypass security using a number of evasion techniques, such as hopping ports, tunneling HTTP and using encryption, the company said.

Organizations should examine why employees are using peer-to-peer tools, said Paula Skokowski, vice president of marketing at Accellion.

“Are file size restrictions pushing users to nonsecure alternatives like peer-to-peer?” Skokowski asked.

Companies need to do more to educate employees and information technology departments about the differences between consumer and enterprise-level file-transfer solutions, Skokowski said.

“We are hearing over and over again that if an easy-to-use, secure means to transfer files is not available, users will go elsewhere,” she said.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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