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DoD to tighten data security after exposing millions of vets’ info

Members of the 833rd Cyberspace Operations Squadron participate in the monthly 567th Cyberspace Operations Group “hunt exercise” at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, March 21, 2019. The three-day exercise afforded teams from the 90th, 92nd, 833rd and 834th COSs, as well as the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the opportunity to defend against an enemy within a virtual training network. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. R.J. Biermann)
October 08, 2019

Officials at the Department of Defense announced Thursday it will revamp its Servicemembers Civil Relief Act databases after reports the department accidentally exposed the private information of millions of veterans and active-duty troops.

Leaders from Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) filed a lawsuit on July 31, 2017, against the department to force the changes, Military Times reported.

“Veterans are not a product. We will not let those who have exploited our defenders go unpunished,” VVA national president John Rowan said in a statement. “Monetizing our service members by sharing their personal information for profit while compromising their identities is despicable and damaging to our national defense.”

The exposed information lead to foreign “troll farms” to target troops online, VVA warned in a statement on Sept. 17.

“Their goals are to perpetrate financial fraud, spread anti-American propaganda, manipulate the online public community spaces and sow discord by exploiting and inflaming national divisions,” the VVA analysis states.

“While their objectives also include election interference, their activities and their effects continue without interruption year-round and are not limited to political elections.”

The new protections make it harder for private companies, which the troll farmers posed as, to verify troops’ and veterans’ status by now requiring all users of the sites to register before accessing any information and more clearly outline the potential criminal penalties for anyone abusing the information.

This latest development comes on the heels of other data-security concerns in the U.S. military.

As part of a broader effort to strengthen data privacy and security, the Navy recently named Aaron Weis the new chief information officer following news of several cybersecurity breaches that put the service on guard.

Weis was the senior adviser to the Defense Department’s chief information officer before he was chosen as the Navy’s CIO.

In the announcement naming Weis the new CIO, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer stressed the importance of data security and digital information in the announcement.

“The strategic use of data and information resources represents a critical enabler of lethality and readiness. Managing and protecting our data is crucial as we confront the renewal of great power competition,” he added.

In order to safeguard the Navy and Marine Corps’ secrets, Weis will lead efforts to push what officials called cultural changes on a number of fronts including basic cybersecurity practices, accountability and improving security practices for defense contractors.

Small defense contractors are frequently targeted by China and other countries, like North Korea, Iran, and Russia.

While the role is to stop all hackers from acquiring sensitive intelligence from the U.S. Navy, China remains the primary concern.

“They’re never going to stop,” Undersecretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said of China in an interview. “They are going to be at this for a very long time, largely because they’ve been successful at it.”