Packet Rat: To federal wooers'send flowers, not e-mail

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

In the world of business, Army Col. Kassem Saleh would have to be considered the ultimate mergers and acquisitions man. In diplomacy, he might have found a final solution to the Israeli-Palestinian schism, or at least a way to get the two sides in a mood to talk.

Unfortunately, Saleh chose a more personal milieu for his powers of multitasking and persuasion. He courted as many as 50 women over the Internet simultaneously, all from his U.S. military post in Afghanistan. He apparently proposed to many of them, without ever meeting even one in person.

'It would have worked, too,' the Rat slyly noted, 'if he had followed better communications security procedures.'

Saleh or, as he is now known, the Internet Romeo, found his tactical position untenable after one potential Mrs. Saleh decided to use information warfare and hacked his Web e-mail account, unearthing correspondence to a number of other potential brides. The colonel's lawyer told a large metropolitan newspaper that had the hacking not happened, his client would have 'wound up' his loose ends more effectively.

'Didn't the same thing happen to your Uncle Sid?' the cyberrodent inquired of his spouse.
'No, he did marry several women,' Mrs. Rat replied. 'One in every state was his goal, but he met them at 12-step program meetings, not on the Internet.'

'Same difference,' the whiskered one said. 'Anyway, this guy is my new poster boy for agency security training. He never would have been exposed if he'd followed some basic best practices for digital Valentinos.'

'Are you trying to tell me something?' Mrs. Rat squinted suspiciously. 'How have you been spending your spare time online lately?'

'This is a purely professional pursuit for me, I swear,' the whiskered one backpedaled. 'But when it comes to teaching people why we have certain network usage policies, I need all the scapegoats I can get. And my John Walker Lindh stories are beginning to show their age.'

'All right, then,' Mrs. Rat replied, lowering her laser glance from kill to stun. 'Let's hear your network security rules for Lotharios.'

'Well, the first and most obvious mistake Saleh made was using a webmail account for correspondence. He should at least have had different, redirected accounts for each of his correspondents so he could conceal the location of his actual mailbox. And he should have used a Post Office Protocol client to harvest his e-mail and keep any drafts offline.

'Second, he copied and pasted content from one sensitive e-mail to another. That's just asking for trouble. It can mix up classification levels and get you in all sorts of hot water when you copy the wrong name into a new message. And then there's the biggest no-no of them all.'

'What's that?' Mrs. Rat asked. 'His use of military networks to browse Web personals ads?'

'Nope,' the wirebiter replied. 'His biggest mistake was hitting the Send button.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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