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VA's Internet blocking may be a little overzealous

Federal Computer Week published a package of articles recently about a notorious website that releases classified documents, and the ramifications for federal agencies. Our articles covered various aspects of federal worklife in the era that this website has created, including transparency, data security and the makeup of the workforce itself.

Then, on Friday, we learned from a reader that people trying to read the articles at the Veterans Affairs department were unable to -- they were blocked. Although the firewall message that people saw did not specify the reason, we assume it is because the name of the webiste -- which I'm carefully not using here, but it rhymes with "tricky geeks" -- appears in the headlines and body text of the stories.

Seriously, VA? We're all for security but blocking information because of a word is like swinging a sledgehammer to remove a splinter. It brings back the debates from a decade ago where libraries and schools were criticized for using blocking software that, for example, blocked websites about breast cancer because 'breast' was on the list of forbidden words.

Reading classified or sensitive material released by a website might be a problem for federal employees. Reading our articles about tricky geeks will not. If the VA can't find blocking software that can figure out the difference, perhaps it's time for a new approach.

What about your agency? How does your agency determine what to block and what is safe? Let us know.

Posted on Jan 31, 2011 at 7:25 PM

Reader Comments

Tue, Feb 15, 2011 John Public somewhere in the federal bureaucracy

The reason why the VA is blocking the WL website is because their amazingly under trained behind the times personnel in charge of blocking websites can't figure out how to block WL without blocking the rest of the Internet. Of course the VA is pretty much accustomed to things like the Internet not working. The VA is forced to work with very antiquated software because they can't seem to get the new stuff working.

Sun, Feb 13, 2011 The VA

Not to beat a dead horse but yes the VA is consistently overdoing security and making crucial mistakes. I thought they had recognized the necessity of replacing the embedded bureaucrats who have run the VA into the ground and left it miles behind technically but no, afraid not. They just moved a couple of YES men and YES women into positions of leadership and then told everyone they had fixed the system. NOT!

Mon, Feb 7, 2011 Paul

I have no problem with the WL site itself being blocked but here in the DoD, they block ANYTHING that has the name somewhere in it. As a result, I get the Big Brother is watching you message every time I click on a news article about it. I have to email the links home and read them there. I think it's a silly over-reaction given that if I really wanted to post something, I could still do it at home. It doesn't mediate any risk.

Wed, Feb 2, 2011

I work for Big Numb Corporation - a really well known name in Gederal Business. Their process for security is almost identicial. The financial oafs and lawyers who increasingly run American businesses will cover their A at any cost, even if it is running up their costs and killing their business.

Tue, Feb 1, 2011

DOD has issued regulations that prohibit employees from logging onto the WL site, and instituted software blocking this site and notifying authorities so disciplinary action may be taken against the employee. And you thought the VA was overreacting!

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