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Defense bill tackles WikiLeaks-style insider threats

Dismissing White House concerns about the tight timetable, Congress on Thursday sent President Obama a Defense authorization bill for 2012 that would require the Pentagon to install a departmentwide computer monitoring system by October aimed at averting unauthorized data leaks.

The measure calls for an insider threat detection program to prevent Defense Department personnel and contractors from releasing sensitive data, following allegations a U.S. soldier transferred hundreds of thousands of confidential diplomatic and military files to the public exposure website WikiLeaks. The security application is supposed to flag signs of unauthorized computer activity and, in some cases, block information sharing.

Under H.R. 1540, which cleared the Senate late Thursday by a vote of 86-13, the Pentagon must connect all information systems in every service and agency to a central control panel. The legislation demands the technology employ a variety of specific safeguards, including: monitoring the use of external data ports and read/write tools; disabling removable data drives; electronically reporting unusual user behavior; rendering data unreadable if compromised; updating bug fixes; regulating access according to job responsibilities; and refereeing traffic between networks to prevent the exchange of restricted data.

The system must be operable by Oct. 1, 2012, and fully deployed by October 2013. The House approved the defense bill by a vote of 283-136 on Wednesday night.

An intelligence authorization bill enacted this summer mandated the national intelligence director set up a similar system within the same short time frame. That measure drew White House pushback. A statement of administrative policy objecting to H.R. 754 stated, "the administration is concerned with the unrealistic timelines required by this provision for the program's operational readiness, and strongly requests that the provision be amended to grant the [Office of the Director of National Intelligence] flexibility in implementation timelines of the program." The legislation passed anyway.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement saying the administration would not veto the defense bill, but it did not address the threat detection technology.

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