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DOD bars use of HTML e-mail, Outlook Web Access

(Original article URL: http://www.fcw.com/article97178-12-22-06-Web Original author:  Original date: Dec. 22, 2006)

Due to an increased network threat condition, the Defense Department is blocking all HTML-based e-mail messages and has banned the use of Outlook Web Access e-mail applications, according to a spokesman for the Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations.

An internal message available on the Internet from the Defense Security Service (DSS) states that JTF-GNO raised the network threat condition from Information Condition 5, which indicates normal operating conditions, to Infocon 4 “in the face of continuing and sophisticated threats” against Defense Department networks.

Infocon 4 usually indicates heightened vigilance in preparation for operations or exercises or increased monitoring of networks due to increased risk of attack.

The JTF-GNO mandated use of plain text e-mail because HTML messages pose a threat to DOD because HTML text can be infected with spyware and, in some
cases, executable code that could enable intruders to gain access to DOD networks, the JTF-GNO spokesman said.

In an e-mail to Federal Computer Week, a Navy user said that any HTML messages sent to his account are automatically converted to plain text.

The JTF-GNO spokesman declined to say why the command raised the threat level except to say that Infocon levels are adjusted to reflect worldwide social and political events and activities. He said the current threat level does not bar the use of attachments, including Power Point slides used for briefings.

He also declined to tell FCW what other restrictions on e-mail that JTF-GNO has imposed. But a December 2006 newsletter of the Colorado National Guard said that under Infocon 4, Guard members receiving e-mails from any unknown source, including “mail received from unrecognized Department of Defense accounts,” should be viewed as potentially harmful.

The Colorado Guard newsletter also alerted personnel to be vigilant against e-mail “phishing” attempts to gain personal information.

The ban on use of Outlook Web mail will hit thousands of users at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., according to an internal message available on the Internet. The ban on the use of Outlook Web Access “will significantly impact the way we presently conduct business,” due to the fact that that Web mail is the primary means of e-mail access for 4,500 employees at the base, according to the message.

Robins has developed a work-around for these users to access Outlook directly by logging on to government computers with their common access cards, the internal message said.

JTF-GNO raised the DOD network threat level to Infocon 4 in mid-November after an attack on the networks at the Naval War College (NWC) required NWC to take its systems offline. The JTF-GNO spokesman said at the time that the increase in threat conditions had no relation to the attack against NWC.


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