Some simple questions after the Bundeswehr Leak ….

I am following the present discussion about the leak of a communication between some generals of the German Air Defense from abroad. It really feels extremely embarrassing that the Russians could overhear a communication of high-ranked German army officers. And I do not know how to answer questions of retired Norwegian IT-specialists (of my age) here in the north of Europe … With German troops participating right now in huge Nato maneuvers in northern Norway. And believe me I have often criticized my Norwegian friends for a lack of IT-security awareness, in particular regarding the use of Microsoft and Zoom. And now this disaster in my home country …

From my point of view establishing a formal Untersuchungsausschuss (investigation committee) of the German parliament is only one of the necessary steps required to clarify what has happened. But it is an important one, together with internal and technical investigations within the Bundeswehr.

In this post I want to ask some simple questions which, in my opinion, should be answered. Any IT-guy having worked with or for public governmental institutions in Europe could ask them. None of the links I give below is classified.

Why WebEx at all?

The first point in all the TV and newspaper discussions is that there seems to be no doubt that the communication is authentic and that WebEx was used. Now, anyone with a basic idea about information security would ask the following question:

Why for heavens sake did the German officers use Webex at all? A product of Cisco, i.e. of a commercial US company? With published security problems during the Corona years? Why does the German military not have its own security protocols and measures in place?

Well, we and the US are allies, but … Yeah, but, … and Trump on the horizon.

It is a German company, “Secunet”, who has developed mobile systems (SINA workstations) compliant with for NATO certifications on different levels of security. See e.g.: loesungen/ sina-workstation-s niapc/ Product/ SINA-Workstation-S_730

These systems were bought by the Bundeswehr in relatively large quantities.

So, my first two open question are:

  • Why was WebEx used at all? Did the generals not have SINA-workstations available? If they had not, why not?
  • Under what conditions is the usage of WebEx regarded secure by the the responsible IT-specialists of the Bundeswehr?

Actually, the answer to the second question may not be independent of the answer to the first one … as WebEx may be hosted on servers of the Bundeswehr.

Addendum, 05.03.2024: Another point which comes up during TV discussions is that some “experts” say there is reason to believe that the WebEx-session was set up without any end-to-end-encryption. This is really implausible. What is more plausible is that the session was set up with standard encryption and Cisco’s standard management of encryption keys. And maybe – due to mistakes – with allowance for some participants to use a telephone. Making the session insecure again …

A success message of the BWI of 2021 regarding the rollout of Cisco’s WebEx in the Bundeswehr

What did we read in 2021 as a success message regarding the digitalization of the German defense and public institutions?

” … Zusammen und in Echtzeit an Dokumenten arbeiten, E-Mails austauschen, gemeinsame Termine planen, Webkonferenzen mit und ohne Video abhalten, chatten und telefonieren – wenn alle Services komplett ausgerollt sind, ermöglicht Groupware Bw dies auf einer einheitlichen technischen Plattform und über alle zivilen und militärischen Bereiche hinweg. Die BWI startete am 1. Oktober den Rollout mit den Produkten Cisco Jabber und Webex. In einem zweiten Schritt werden im kommenden Jahr auch die Services E-Mail und Enterprise Content Management mit Microsoft Outlook und SharePoint ausgerollt.”

See: magazin /artikel/ groupware-bw-bei-der-bundeswehr-perfekt-vernetzt-von-chat-bis-videokonferenz

Even without translation the combination of tools praised here would make a security aware person more than nervous. And one can only hope that the introduction of these systems only concerns the civil sector of the Bundeswehr. If not, well, … just ask the CCC what they would think of it.

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