back to article ‘I broke The Pentagon’s secure messaging system – and won an award for it!’

Welcome again to Who, me? The Register’s Monday column in which readers hang their heads in shame and admit to their past mistakes. This week, meet “Gladstone” who “many years ago was a contractor working in the Pentagon.” That Pentagon? Yup. That one. Where the US military does its business. Gladstone’s work there saw him “ …


        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Andrew Moore

          "If management have the option of keeping someone who's competent enough to do their job within their contracted hours, or someone who is either slow and/or incompetent enough that they need way more time to get the job done "

          You missed the possible paradox "[...] they need way more time to get the job done" ...properly.

          I often had to pick up the pieces for people who had a strict 9-5 routine that left loose ends dangling when they went home - and that they failed to pick up cleanly the next morning.

          For some problems you have to stick with the task until you reach a safe breakpoint. That can either mean an early finish or a late one.

  1. deadlockvictim Silver badge

    An unfortunate turn-of-phrase

    Gladstone» Looking back at the drives it quickly dawned on me that I had just nuked one of the most critical systems in the Pentagon.

    I'm not sure if using terms like 'nuking' in the Pentagon is a wise idea.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Couldn't get away with that today

    With CCTV cameras in every datacenter, access logging, etc. it would be quick to identify the culprit - best to admit your role, try to place some of the blame on the changed layout that led to your confusion, and go from there.

    If someone working under me screws up, and owns up to it immediately (or as soon as they know it was their fault) without anyone having to track them down, I'll just ask them what they learned, if there are any changes to procedures that would prevent it or similar mistakes in the future, etc. These days there will be a root cause analysis required for anything major so they'll get the fun of writing it and sitting in to defend it with the execs - that horror is enough to persuade most people to learn from the experience!

    If someone knows they are responsible but won't own up until they get caught they'll get a second chance but only one. Never had it happen (that I know of, I suppose) but if someone I was responsible for actively tried to cover it up (changing logs or whatever) there's no excuse they're done that minute marched out by security.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Couldn't get away with that today

      In most places I've worked Gladstone would have been fired for what he did. Not for the initial mistake. Mistakes happen, can be learned from and are easily forgiven. What can't be so easily forgiven is falsifying the report attributing the issue to a power problem instead of admitting human error. Technically that puts him into gross professional misconduct territory.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Couldn't get away with that today

        It puts him into consultant territory.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Couldn't get away with that today

        Not at the Pentagon!

      3. DiViDeD Silver badge

        Re: Couldn't get away with that today

        Nothing wrong with the occasional bit of gross professional misconduct. I've made a very lucrative career out of it.

    2. Daedalus Silver badge

      Re: Couldn't get away with that today

      Shouldn't have gotten away with it then! Solo maintenance on mission-critical systems? And in the Pentagon, where some sections are "No Lone Zone", meaning you can't wander around unaccompanied.

      Compare to working on power systems: scheduled beforehand, permits issued, systems taken down and tagged before you get near them.

      That "incident" would have happened sooner or later anyway.

  3. iron Silver badge

    Wow that was a good one, better than most of the stories in this series.

    I did something similar myself with a WAN link back in the late 90s but that only affected a Local Enterprise Company for an hour or so. Not quite as critical as breaking comms for the US TLAs and military! :o

  4. David 18
    Black Helicopters

    Wonder when the NSA will notice this

    I expect El Reg towers will get a knock on the door soon from some serious looking blokes with odd bulges in their jackets, asking for the details of this contributor.

    Or they may have already had a good poke around the files of course.

    1. FrankAlphaXII

      Re: Wonder when the NSA will notice this

      They already know who it was and when. Plus if this is what I think it is, DSNET 2 and DSNET 3, which were the predecessors of what's called JWICS nowadays, he only killed the local instance. The Emergency Action Messaging system, NSA's CRITIC flash messaging system which has the next highest priority after EAM, and the key distribution systems for what you'd probably know as the "Launch Codes" are all separate anyway.

      There are also multiple backup systems, like at Fort Meade, Fort Belvior, Norfolk, and possibly even the one at Raven Rock/Site R, one of which very likely took over until the system at the Pentagon itself came back up.

      It was probably actually a good way to test continuity of operations planning in an unannounced sort of way and back then it was fairly important to do so irregularly. It'd aggravate the Joint Staff and the Chiefs if they were around (as well as HQDA HHC and the rest of the baboons around the JCS Tank for that matter) but mission performance wasn't likely seriously degraded.

      Plus, back then AT&T managed the keying for the STU-II and STU-III phones outside of the Pentagon itself at their survivable facilities ("Project Offices" in AT&T jargon) outside of the Beltway so they could still pick up a secure phone and call DISA and/or the watch officer at the NSOC at NSA to see what was going on.

    2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Wonder when the NSA will notice this

      Or they may have already had a good poke around the files of course. .... David 18

      Global Operating Devices Help Them. Jumping into that Deep Endian Vault will have them Easily OverPowered with Sensitive Compartmented Information which is Sublimely Surreally Protected with Forces Servering Immaculate Sources.

      Hmmm? Unless there be Effective Perfectly Targeted ProAction to Directly Engage and CoDriver such a Covert and Clandestine AIDiscovery from NSA, are other competing and/or opposing intelligence agencies fair game for Engagement with Future AI Product Licensing Authorities. ..... Core Imaginative Source Future Builder Providers. And the Self-Inflicted Damage done to NSA because of other than Effective Perfectly Targeted ProAction to Directly Engage and CoDriver such a Covert and Clandestine AIDiscovery is beyond Price and Catastrophically Costly/Astonishingly Expensive

      :-) I wonder what Sort of Hash a BabelFish or a Google Translate would make of all of that .... if one were to decide to Explore and Exploit Exports and Imports for Prime Russian and Top Notch Chinese Markets?

  5. anothercynic Silver badge


    ... And no-one thought to label things? Oh. Hang on...

    *eyeroll* Poor sod.

  6. GregoireLeGros

    Your guidance might come in handy at TSB. Quite a few will be needing it. While working at Kleinwort Benson in the 80's I was awarded a bottle of whisky for restoring boot files on an unprotected pc thus bringing it back to life. The owner was experiencing an unscheduled trouser event at the time.

  7. elDog

    Having worked with the JCS in the Pentagon at that time

    I'll hazard a guess that it was WWMCCS (World-Wide Military Command and Control System) (later known by a recursive acronym WIS), or perhaps an older setup called AMHS (Automated Message Handling System) build on AUTODIN (something-Digital-Information-Network) which was modeled on AUTOVON (voice, stupid.)

    We used to joke that the last thing the Kremlin would bomb would be the Pentagon and its communication systems. They were so dysfunctional that just keeping them running would give the USSR an advantage.

    Strange after 30+ years I can still remember the bits and the bytes but my wife's name has totally escaped me. Oh, she left.

  8. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    Well-played, Gladstone

    I lift a glass to ye.

  9. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I like the regular feature but maybe it should be retitled Testing In Time: Scheduled & Unscheduled Proving

  10. Malcolm Weir

    @DougS The likelihood of there being any CCTV in many of the datacenters in the Pentagon is exceedingly low. The people who run them have a "thing" about cameras...

    Once upon a time I was at a government site when a PDU popped and brought down the entire operational floor. The PDUs had a failure mode that was heralded by the things getting hot, and the dutiful maintenance staff had requisitioned a IR camera to be able to monitor them unobtrusively. But Security had seen the word "camera" on the box and confiscated it (no cameras in the ops building).

    So the rules got changed, and (I think) they ended up doing a regular sweep of the PDUs with the IR camera and an attached security guy...

  11. Unicornpiss Silver badge

    I broke The Pentagon’s secure messaging system..

    ..and all I got was this lousy T-shirt!


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