U.K.'s MI5 Enhances Security On Terror Threat E-Mail Service

MI5 was criticized for not using Secure Sockets Layer encryption and for using a U.S.-based server as the host for the sign-up script.

Gregg Keizer, Contributor

January 16, 2007

2 Min Read

Britain's MI5 security service has revamped the sign-up page for its e-mail warnings of terrorist threat alerts and shifted to a U.K.-based server in response to critics who blasted the agency for not encrypting personal information.

A week ago, MI5 announced that it was accepting sign-ups to an e-mail service that would ping recipients when the country's terrorist threat ranking changed. At that time, the supersecret agency said the service was designed to "enable subscribers to keep informed of major developments in national security affairs."

Later that day, the privacy Web site Spyblog posted a long entry that took MI5 to task for not securing the sign-up form page with SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), the Internet encryption standard. Spyblog also hammered MI5 for using a U.S.-based server as the host for the sign-up script.

"There is nothing particularly wrong in using a commercial e-mail service for these MI5 e-mail alert lists, except for the fact that this United Kingdom National Security system is being run insecurely in a foreign country, and ignoring some of the built-in standard SSL protections which these services are perfectly capable of offering," the site said.

"We will not be surprised if the entire list of MI5 e-mail list subscribers is stolen in transit or obtained by unauthorized access."

By Friday, the sign-up site had been modified to use SSL, and the form had been moved to a U.K. server. MI5 added new text to the page that spelled out the additional security.

"Your subscription details will be sent over a secure Internet connection via a Secure Socket Layer (SSL), a protocol used for secure communications over the Internet. Web addresses that begin with 'https' indicate that an SSL connection will be used," read the site.

Spyblog noted the changes in a Sunday entry, including details on the hosting server, but still found fault. "It is still not being hosted entirely on secure U.K. Government IT infrastructure," Spyblog said.

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