Sex, spies & videotape: Seven things we can learn from the Pentagon sex scandal

The scandal engulfing General Petraeus, Paula Broadwell, and assorted friends offers valuable lessons in privacy -- or the lack thereof -- for all of us.

I think by now we are all too familiar with the essential facts of the Petraeus sex scandal, otherwise known as the Love Pentagon. Still this story offers some valuable lessons about Internet privacy, or what little we have left of that precious commodity.

What have we learned beside the correct spelling of General Petraeus’s last name and how many pushups Paula Broadwell can do? These seven things.

1. Anonymous email accounts aren’t

Paula Broadwell probably thought she was being careful by sending her “keep your hands off my man, you brazen hussy” emails to Jill Kelley from a pseudonymous Webmail account. But it didn’t take long for FBI agent Fredrich Humphries to track down the national security consultant’s real identity. The key: The Feds followed the IP address used by the computer that sent the anonymous emails and found out what other accounts were using the same IP address -- presumably by going to Broadwell's ISP and demanding that information -- and matched it with other information they had about Broadwell.

Lesson here: IP addresses aren't perfect unique identifiers, because they are sometimes shared -- but they're a pretty good start. So if you must send harassing emails to a person you suspect of having an affair with the person you're having an affair with, be sure and use an anonymous proxy server to mask where they came from. 

2. Let the right ones in

Inviting the FBI to look into your business is risky business, because there’s no way to control what they will find out. You can bet Jill Kelley is regretting that now.

In other words, if you are planning to invite the federales in to snoop around your inbox, try to make sure there aren’t 20,000 to 30,000 pages of flirtatious email messages with a four-star general in there. (I suspect that’s only the beginning of what the Feds will find there.)

It’s a bit like calling the cops to your door because your neighbor’s dog is barking too loudly and leaving a pound of uncut cocaine on the coffee table. Once you open that door, there’s no closing it.

3. Leave your work at work

We don’t yet know why Paula Broadwell had thousands of classified documents on her computer and in paper files at her house, but we do know that was a bad idea. She was, after all, a security analyst for the military with sufficient security clearance to read them. She may have just been using the material for her book. Still, taking sensitive files home is almost always a bad idea. And when you're sleeping with the boss, it's a really bad idea.

If your job requires it, you need to a) secure it while in motion, and b) get sign off from someone above you willing to take the heat if they get lost or stolen. 

4. It’s always better to keep your shirt on

Until the New York Times revealed his name, Agent Humphries was known only as Agent Shirtless, after it became known that he’d shared a topless photo of himself with Kelley. That nickname is likely to stick with him for the rest of his semi-nude life. The rule here: If you take a digital photo of yourself in any partially undressed state and share it with anyone else, up to and including your mother, it will eventually find its way on to the Webbernets – guaranteed. (We’ll leave aside the question of why you’d be sending semi-dressed pix to mom for the time being.) And unless you’re ripped like Arnold Schwarzenegger, the world really doesn’t want to see you with your shirt off. Really. So button up.

5. Skeletons hate closets

Got a deep dark secret you’ve kept carefully hidden? It probably won’t stay secret for long, especially if you fall into the maw of insatiable 24/7 media hounds. And that’s why we now know that Paula Broadwell was a spokesmodel for a manufacturer of semi-automatic weapons, or that both Jill Kelley and her twin sister Natalie Khawam were heavily in debt and involved in what might turn out to be a bogus cancer charity. (Also, they both got their photo taken with Florida congressman Marco Rubio – you can bet that will feature prominently in his campaign literature when he goes for the Republican VP nod in 2016.)

Your best defense: Do a thorough background check on yourself and update it at least once a year. That way at least you’ll know what’s out there; you might even be able to persuade people to remove the skeezier stuff, if you’re nice about it.

6. The national surveillance state is alive and well and out to engulf you

The most chilling aspect of this story is how easily several careers and marriages were ruined by one stupid complaint and some rudimentary computer forensics. That should make us all stop and take a deep breath before we blithely carry on tweeting and updating our way into the NSA database. The good news: Perhaps the fall of a CIA chief is what it will take to get some real privacy legislation out of our deadlocked/braindead Congress.

7. The world can only take so many Kardashians

Really, I think we hit our quota a long time ago. Sorry, Jill and Natalie. But maybe you can both dye your hair blonde and try to come back as the Olsen twins. 

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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