Air Force bans use of removable media, under threat of court martial

The commander of Air Force Network Operations has issued a Cyber Control Order banning all removable media from use on SIPRnet in an attempt to stop leaks, according to a report.

Spooked by the thought of more classified documents getting out for public consumption via sites such as WikiLeaks, the Air Force has ordered an all-out ban on using removable media on the Defense Department's secret network or risk facing a court-martial, according to a report.

The action will make it more difficult for workers to do their jobs, the report stated, because a CD, DVD or USB thumb drive is often the easiest way to get information from one machine to the next.

“They were asking us to build homes before,” a military source told Wired. “Now they’re taking away our hammers.”

The Cyber Control Order, obtained by Wired’s Danger Room, was issued on Dec. 3 by Maj. Gen. Richard Webber, the Commander of Air Force Network Operations Maj. Gen. Richard Webber.

It directs airmen to refrain from using all removable media “on all systems, servers, and stand alone machines residing on the SIPRnet," the Secret IP Router Network. 

“Unauthorized data transfers routinely occur on classified networks using removable media and are a method the insider threat uses to exploit classified information,” the order said.

DOD has had a back-and-forth relationship with removable media. In November 2008, the U.S. Strategic Command banned the use of USB flash media after a virus was found to be spreading through military networks by copying itself from one removable drive to another. The Defense Department lifted the ban in February.

Removable media generally refers to storage media which is designed to be removed from the computer without powering the computer off. It includes CDs, DVDs, USB flash drives, external hard drives, memory cards, zip disks, magnetic tapes and paper data storage.

“Banning DVDs and thumb drives might seem like an overreaction, but it’s also a reminder that in the age of cloud computing, old fashioned removable media is still a huge security risk,” wrote Jared Newman in his PCWorld blog