The Navy on Friday confirmed blocking access to commercial email services provided by Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., America Online Inc. and others, saying they posed a security risk to its networks.
The decision, which went into effect this week, applied to military and civilian personnel on ships or ashore in the United States and overseas.
That action was taken in order to prevent viruses or other malicious software from entering the system, which is used to carry information related to Naval operations, as well as business and administrative work.
“With commercial web mail standards we don’t know the exact level of protection and whether it meets the Navy’s standards for network security,” Ron Steiner, public affairs officer for the Naval Network Warfare Command, Norfolk, Va., said. “It just makes our job of protecting the network that much harder.
The affected network is separate from the Department of Defense’s “classified” network, which isn’t accessible to most military personnel, Steiner said.
The Navy network, along with other military branches, is connected to the Department of Defense’s Global Information Grid, which a hacker could possibly enter if a Navy computer was compromised.
Network users will still have access to the Navy’s email system, and will be able to receive and respond to messages from people using commercial services.
Other than email, network users will be allowed to access other services on commercial Web portals, such as search or blogging.
Before using the Navy network, a user must sign a form agreeing to all rules and regulations, including having email monitored if the Navy chooses to do so.
Commanding officers aboard ships have instituted various levels of network protection for years, primarily to manage bandwidth, the Navy said. Some ships, however, had also banned web-mail use.
The Marine Corps has prohibited access to commercial email on its network since 1999, the Navy said.
The Army, however, has no similar restrictions, according to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
Because the block applied to onshore facilities, there was concern that it could affect sailors using computers at base libraries, which are connected to the official network.
“This concerns us, because so many of our patrons won’t be able to access their email and many come to the library to do just that,” Ciro Giordano, supervisory librarian at Naval Support Activity, Naples, Italy, told Stars and Stripes.
To minimize the impact, some large-deck ships may have computers in their libraries that can’t access commercial email services, the Navy said. Those computers, however, will not be connected to the Navy network.