Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Diving the Digital Dumpster: The Impact of the Internet on Collecting Open-Source Intelligence

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Diving the Digital Dumpster: The Impact of the Internet on Collecting Open-Source Intelligence

Article excerpt

Editorial Abstract:

Initially a research project for networking computers, the Internet now enables a free flow of information and has woven itself into the very fabric of our culture. However, the Air Force should be judicious about the information it places on Web sites. In this article, Colonel Umphress argues that although the Internet is an information system we cannot avoid, the Air Force must use this resource responsibly to avoid falling prey to its vulnerabilities.

AIR FORCE ORGANIZATIONS commonly ponder the type of information they should post to Web sites. On the one hand, they could reasonably consider posting as much information as possible. Web sites so constructed might include an organization's functions; its list of personnel; details of its operations, policies, major decisions, finances; and so forth, thus conveying a sense of openness and transparency. Visitors to the site could easily find whatever they are looking for. On the other hand, these organizations could argue in favor of posting very little information beyond perhaps their names and post-office-box addresses. Although such a policy would not present a very friendly "Web presence," it would certainly prevent someone from using information for nefarious purposes.

Common sense says that the answer lies somewhere between these two extremes. But where? Although the Internet makes possible the free flow of information, the Air Force should not necessarily make all information freely available through the Internet. Obviously, the service should not post classified or sensitive information, appropriate only for a restricted audience, without appropriate informationprotection mechanisms. The less obvious question addresses how much unclassified information the Air Force should make publicly available, realizing the possibility of assembling compromising intelligence from seemingly innocent information.

We live in an information age, one requiring that we carefully consider possible threats to national security before we openly provide certain information. This article explores the issue of legal data collection in die context of the Internet by describing its susceptibility to exploitation for open-source intelligence (OSINT), current Air Force efforts to prevent OSINT collection, current practices that expose the Air Force to such collection, and possible countermeasures.1

The Internet: An Information Delivery System We Cannot Avoid

Picture a world in which everyone has a printing press and potential access to everyone else's documents. Because of today's technology-specifically, the Internet-this image is not far removed from reality. Rising from the modest roots of 1960s technology, the Internet currently attracts an estimated 935 million users across more than 214 countries. At its current growth rate, usage could reach world saturation by 2010.2

The Internet first demonstrated its usefulness by providing the underlying computernetwork infrastructure for transmitting data files from one computer to another, thereby spawning electronic mail, news groups, chat boards, and other applications that support information transfer. Over the past decade, the World Wide Web (WWW) has given the Internet a user-friendly veneer by providing data-transfer protocols and addressing schemes needed to deliver text, pictures, sounds, and videos. It has put the Internet-hence information-directly into the hands of ordinary citizens. Indeed, the WWW has made it possible for anyone with access to a Web server-something supplied by all major Internet service providers-to publish information to the world.

The Internet's potential has prompted technology pundits to declare it a major force of change because it offers information unfettered by physical, political, or cultural boundaries. With the Internet, for instance, a student can find information on how computer networks work; a civil engineer can locate an aerial photo of a road system; a child can send an instant message to a military mother deployed to a foreign country; a doctor can download a scholarly paper on diseases; a shopper can purchase electronic equipment from a geographically distant retailer; a tourist can read information about her native country in her native language; a blogger can append a description of daily observations to a Web log; and so forth. …

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