House bill seeking government P2P ban gets boost

Security firm Tiversa Inc. has provided the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee with more reasons to ban peer-to-peer networks in government -- some 200 sensitive military documents it recently accessed via such technology.

The documents include personal data on U.S. troops based overseas, details on sensitive military projects and defense contracts and documents that violate International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) rules, according to a Tiversa executive. One document contained personal data on dozens of soldiers from the Third Special Forces Group based out of Fort Bragg N.C. and included the names and ages of their spouses and children.

The House Committee had asked Tiversa to try to access such data for use in its debate on a proposed bill that would ban the use of P2P technology on government networks. The request stemmed from a House hearing in July during which Tiversa had disclosed that it found details on safe house locations for the family of President Barack Obama, presidential motorcade routes and other sensitive data on a government P2P network. That followed Tiversa's disclosure that it had unearthed details about the Obama's Marine One helicopter on a server located in Iran. Those details were apparently inadvertently leaked to the Iranian system from a P2P network.

"In an effort to understand the magnitude of P2P risks, and draft appropriate legislation, the Committee asked us to provide additional examples following the hearing in July," said Scott Harrer, brand director of the Cranberry Township, Pa.-based Tiversa. Over the past month, the company submitted more than 200 more examples of P2P network data that it has accessed, Harrer said.

Most of the documents found by Tiversa were marked "secret" and appear to include information from all branches of the military, Harrer said. The company has reported on its findings to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Army Criminal Investigation Command and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, he added. "We have recently seen these files being downloaded in foreign countries, including China and Pakistan," Harrer said. "We have also seen user-issued searches for this type of sensitive data emanating from outside the U.S., so people are in fact actively looking for it."

Tiversa's latest disclosures will likely add to growing concerns about the security of P2P networks.

Numerous others have highlighted similar data leaks as well. In January, Eric Johnson, a professor of operations management at the Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business disclosed how he had found numerous health-care documents on P2P networks. For example, Johnson said he found a 1,718-page document containing Social Security numbers, dates of birth, insurance information, treatment codes and other health care data belonging to about 9,000 patients at a medical testing laboratory.

Such leaks typically occur when a user installs a P2P client such as Kazaa, LimeWire, BearShare, Morpheus or FastTrack on a computer for the purposes of sharing music and other files with others on the network. In many cases, the software is not installed properly and ends up exposing not just the files that the user wants to share, but also every other file on their computers.

A bill that would make it illegal for P2P developers to make software that causes files to be inadvertently shared over a P2P network without a user's knowledge was passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week. The so-called Informed P2P User Act would also require developers to clearly inform users about files that are being made available for searching and sharing, and would mandate that a user agree to the file-sharing first.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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