A Primer On The Government's 'Private Internet'

It is believed that the leaked diplomatic cables came from the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network — or SIPRNET. That's the secure "private Internet" used by the military and the State Department. But the network's security is only as reliable as the people using it.

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GUY RAZ, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today's All Tech Considered begins with more on the WikiLeaks story. It's believed that the leaked diplomatic cables came from something called the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network or SIPRNET. That's the secure, private Internet used by the military and the State Department.

As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, the networks security is only as reliable as the people using it.

MARTIN KASTE: Kiki Munshi is a retired foreign service officer who served a couple of years in Iraq. She recalls having two computers on her desk.

Ms. KIKI MUNSHI (Retired Foreign Service Officer): One that I used for everyday conversation and one which was a military computer and could be used for classified information.

KASTE: That second military computer would've been connected to SIPRNET. It was meant for secret communications, but technically, it was nothing fancy. Bruce Schneier is a prominent author and consultant on computer security.

Mr. BRUCE SCHNEIER (Author, Computer Security Consultant): What the government did is they made their own network. It looks just like the Internet, except it's for classified information, and only people who are cleared had access to it.

KASTE: The network was expanded intentionally after 9/11 because of the belief that more information sharing between agencies might lead to the detection of terror plots. But SIPRNET has expanded so much, an estimated two million or more military and civilian personnel now have access to the system. With that many users, no amount of special logins or tracking software can guarantee security, says Schneier.

Mr. SCHNEIER: The more people have access to it, the more people can decide deliberately to leak it or accidentally to leak it.

KASTE: And that's apparently what happened here. Although the source for the WikiLeaks information is not known, the assumption is that this information was leaked, not hacked. And it may not have been the first time. Earlier this year, the Army charged an intelligence analyst named Bradley Manning with being a source for WikiLeaks.

Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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