Higher Intelligence: Behind the Curtain of Our Nation’s Cyber Security.

Being an active consumer of the modern media cycle is an exhausting, full-time job. Sure, it’s important to stay informed, but with so much happening every day, it’s almost impossible to catch every latest development.

One news story that caught my eye, but may very well fly under the radar of other Americans, involves a recent report from the US Government Accountability Office. I know what you’re thinking; I too was shocked and amused to learn that the US government is even pretending to hold themselves accountable.

But this report is important because it involves our nation’s defense. In particular, it details how the Pentagon is extremely vulnerable to cyber-attacks on many of their weapons systems. Due to “basic issues” like password mismanagement and sending unencrypted communications, almost all weapons tested by the Department of Defense between 2012 and 2017 have “mission critical” cyber-security weaknesses.

Well, that sure makes me feel good.

As someone who works in the Data Industry, I know all too well the importance of strong cyber-security. X-Mode is entrusted with sensitive data from our users and our clients, and we always take all the necessary steps to make sure that data is secure, anonymized, and safe. We know that our job is important; that’s why we take it so seriously.

Hearing about this report, and also that Pentagon officials subsequently dismissed the allegations of weak cyber-security, may cause some people to be a little alarmed. Are weak passwords the only thing standing between us and the Russians, or terrorists, or Nazis, or whoever it is we’re fighting these days?

As both a steadfast supporter of data transparency and, indeed, as a patriot, I, therefore, consider it my duty to disclose the following series of emails, which I received from an anonymous source. These appear to be internal communications between the Office of Accountability and a Senior Member of the Pentagon’s Cyber-Security Team.

I present the emails exactly as I received them, and I hope they will help to paint a fuller picture of the inner workings of our nation’s defense. Please, don’t call me a hero.

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FROM: Ken Wilson, Office of Accountability

TO: Norman Sanderson, Deputy Chief of Cyber-Security for the Pentagon

Good morning Mr. Sanderson. This is Ken, just following up on our audit later this week. We have a lot of ground to cover, and I want to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible. Could you prepare a briefing for me on the encryption process and passcode system for the weapon systems we had discussed? That would be super.

Best,

Ken Wilson

FROM: Norman Sanderson, Deputy Chief of Cyber-Security for the Pentagon

TO: Ken Wilson, Office of Accountability

Hi there Ken. Please, just call me Norm. Mr. Sanderson was my father haha!

I’m afraid I got some bad news for ya. I spent the whole morning looking around the office for the sticky note with all my passwords on it, but I can’t find the damn thing anywhere! Not to worry, though, I’m sure it’ll turn up somewhere. Barb probably filed it away somewhere. You know how she is! If you still want to drop by the office later this week, maybe we can look for it together.

I saw on your Facebook page that you like fishing — me too! I used to go with my grandson before he started growing his hair out and listening to all these goddamn communist podcasts. He’s turning into a real pain in the ass, just like his father. Do you have any kids?

Well, anyway. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for ya — my weeks are usually pretty free. Excited to meet on Tuesday. Don’t leave without hearing about the Marlin I caught in Florida last summer!

Your pal,

Norm

FROM: Ken Wilson, Office of Accountability

TO: Norman Sanderson, Deputy Chief of Cyber-Security for the Pentagon

Norm — I sincerely hope you are joking about keeping passcodes for our national defense system on a “sticky note.” Please have your secretary fax me a copy of your security protocols and procedures.

Our meeting is on Wednesday, not Tuesday. I do not have a child.

Cordially,

Ken Wilson

FROM: Norman Sanderson, Deputy Chief of Cyber-Security for the Pentagon

TO: Ken Wilson, Office of Accountability

Hiya, Ken. No kids, huh? I envy you! More time to go fishing, right?

You sure about that meeting day? I coulda swore that Barb told me Tuesday, but what do I know? I tell ya, I’d forget my head in the mornings if it weren’t screwed on my shoulders, and that’s the truth. Just ask my wife! She’s always reminding me how many of her birthdays I’ve forgotten. Does your wife ever get on your case like that?

As for the passwords, I can get Barb to send them over to you as soon as I find them. I’m having our intern go through the dumpster right now just in case. I won’t bother fixing them, though — folks these days only use DMs and Snapchats, so I’m told. I’ll get the intern to send you one of those. Gotta get with the times, Ken!

Your pal,

Norm

FROM: Ken Wilson, Office of Accountability

TO: Norman Sanderson, Deputy Chief of Cyber-Security for the Pentagon

Norm,

I arrived at your office this morning promptly at 10, as we had agreed upon and confirmed repeatedly. Your secretary — a frazzled-looking woman named Marge who kept muttering “stop calling me Barb, dammit!” — told me she had no idea when you would be back, but that I should wait in your office.

I waited in your office for an hour and a half. I took a look around, and quickly found a crumpled, coffee-stained post-it note stuck to the bottom of the trash can. All it said was: “missile code — pa$$word.”

Shortly after this, Marge came in and told me you would not be back until early next week, as you were, in her words, “probably off somewhere getting hammered on a boat and pretending to fish.”

Please get back in touch with me immediately. I also do not have a wife.

Increasingly Concerned,

Ken Wilson

FROM: Norman Sanderson, Deputy Chief of Cyber-Security for the Pentagon

TO: Ken Wilson, Office of Accountability

Hey Ken, Sorry I missed you last Tuesday. Boy, do the fish just leap out of the water at this time of year! Can’t blame me for wanting to get out the old rod and reel, can you?. It’s what makes this all worth it, I tell you what.

I’m glad to hear you found the password! I knew it would turn up somewhere. I’m guessing you took a picture of it or something. Is there anything else you need from me? Believe me, I won’t be doing anything for the rest of the week, so I’m all yours.

Your pal,

Norm

P.S. Seeing as you’re single, I oughtta introduce you to my granddaughter, Tracy. You two would hit it off for sure.

P.P.S. I’ve been getting a lot of calls from some nice reporters, who were also really interested in my password — just like those Russians a couple months ago. Ain’t that a coincidence?

FROM: Ken Wilson, Office of Accountability

TO: Norman Sanderson, Deputy Chief of Cyber-Security for the Pentagon

Norm,

Once again I stopped by your office. Once again I waited, this time for over two hours. I would have left a message with Marge, but a bored looking 17-year old at the desk told me she “had a breakdown” and wouldn’t be coming back.

I urge you to get in touch with me ASAP. I am deeply concerned that you have seriously imperiled our national security.

Frantically,

Ken Wilson

NOTE: Ken did not receive any reply until over a week later.

FROM: Norman Sanderson, Deputy Chief of Cyber-Security for the Pentagon

TO: Ken Wilson, Office of Accountability

Hey, Ken! Thought of you when I saw this, and just had to share. Better them than me, am I right?

Sorry to hear you lost the job — hope you find something a little less stressful for you. I’d offer you work here, but for some reason, Barb has stopped sending out my mail.

Your good pal,

Norm


Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Certain long-standing institutions, agencies, and public offices are mentioned, but the characters involved are wholly imaginary. Names, characters, business, events, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


By: Joseph Green

Joseph is currently a student at Emerson College, where he studies Visual Media and Communication. As Content Creator, Joseph develops engaging content via blog posts, push notifications, and ad-copy. Joseph also draws upon his research skills to help contextualize the company’s place within larger technological and social trends in the industry.