When it comes to the mastery of technology, our government is a fascinating study in contrasts.
On one hand, we have the NSA and even more obscure three-letter-agencies tapping into trans-Atlantic cables and hoovering up our information from Google and Facebook to build the world's most massive data-mining operation. On the other hand, there's Congress, desperately hoping someone will show them the location of the Any key.
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This week's example of Beltway buffoonery comes to us courtesy of Anonymous. On Wednesday, the Twitter account for OpLastResort released some 2,000 email addresses and passwords for staffers on Capitol Hill, in apparent retaliation for NSA spying.
The Anons seemed to feel at least a little bad about this, as they noted in the data dump on ZeroBin, "for the purposes of being far too generous with you guys, we have removed some of the passwords and shuffled the order of the remaining ones." Still, as some bloggers have noted, it's not exactly difficult to connect the password "Granger12!" with the email address of staffers for Kay Granger, Republican representative for Texas's 12th district, to name one example.
Like stealing candy from a baby
That's hardly the dumbest password in use by our political overlords. Thirty of the passwords contain the word "password." Many others contain the names of the member of Congress they're associated with (like Granger) or contain the words "Democrat" or "Republican." Only a handful appear to demonstrate any effort to make them even modestly difficult to guess.
As AtlanticWire's Rebecca Greenfield notes, Congress desperately needs a lesson in password management. According to sources contacted by Greenfield, these logons and passwords are not for official Congressional business, but for a third-party app called iConstituent that's used by Congressional offices to stay in touch with the misguided souls who elected them. Some of these passwords may be the default ones created by iConstituent for staffers who never changed them (but certainly not all), and some may be out of date.
The federal technology gap
Still, this fits an all too familiar narrative. Huge federal agencies like the VA and the military have fully embraced cloud computing and the mobile revolution. The NSA is on the bleeding edge of what's possible with technology. But the only time politicians in DC care about technology is when it helps them raise money and/or get elected. It's the 21st century, but we're governed by a body politic that's partying like it's 1899.
The frightening part: The people who believe the Internet is a series of tubes are tasked with regulating the architects of the industrial surveillance complex. That's why all those reassurances from intelligence committee members following the Snowden revelations were so utterly pathetic.
Congress wants us to believe it has our backs. But it doesn't have our backs. Congress couldn't find its own back with both hands and a GPS device. Dumb passwords are only the tip of the ignorance iceberg. Our legislative system needs a reboot -- as well as someone who can explain to them what "reboot" means.
Is Congress capable of understanding technology? How about if we use small words and talk really slowly? Post your thoughts below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article, "What else can Congress bungle? Their passwords, for starters," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.