Bellingcat: US Soldiers Inadvertently Leaked Nuclear Security Secrets via Flashcard Apps


For US soldiers tasked with the custody of nuclear weapons in Europe, the stakes are high. Security protocols are lengthy, detailed and need to be known by heart. To simplify this process, some service members have been using publicly visible flashcard learning apps — inadvertently revealing a multitude of sensitive security protocols about US nuclear weapons and the bases at which they are stored.

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However, the flashcards studied by soldiers tasked with guarding these devices reveal not just the bases, but even identify the exact shelters with “hot” vaults that likely contain nuclear weapons.

They also detail intricate security details and protocols such as the positions of cameras, the frequency of patrols around the vaults, secret duress words that signal when a guard is being threatened and the unique identifiers that a restricted area badge needs to have.

The entire article is well worth a read, especially for the sheer amount of information Bellingcat uncovered, including locations of cameras and backup generators at specific sites, detailed information on equipment carried on bases, and schedules for checking aircraft shelters containing nuclear weapons vaults.

This information was publicly searchable because most of the flashcard/quizzing tools that the soldiers used made content public by default. This is similar to how credentials are inadvertently leaked on Github by developers apparently unaware or misunderstanding the implications of hosting those on public repositories.

One change that would help a lot would be if online applications start defaulting to private and requiring users to enable public access, rather than the current approach of defaulting to public and requiring the user to intervene to make content private.

For example, although Github has been the source of numerous credential links, all new personal repositories default to “Public.” The user has to choose the “Private” option manually. This practically guarantees a high level of ongoing leaks at sites such as Github.

Github did make a change in July 2020 so that all repositories created by users accessing Github via an organizational SSO service will be defaulted to private. So they realize that defaulting to public is a problem. Yet, they decided to stick with that behavior for personal repositories, even though a huge segment of Github-related credential leaks are from individuals using personal repositories.

This should be unacceptable given the well known security and privacy problems with this practice.

Bellingcat Podcast Season 2–The Executions and The Hunt

In 2018, a video began circulating online that showed an outrageous act of barbarity–armed men in uniform escorting four unarmed women and children, and then summarily executing them.

Bellingcat has a two-episode podcast, The Executions and The Hunt, describing how the online OSINT and human rights community teased out clues in the video to ultimately identify the killers and bring a modicum of justice.

The podcast is disturbing in many ways, especially the ending where it seems unlikely there will be any punishment for the perpetrators of the atrocity.

But sometimes all anyone can do is shout the truth to whomever will listen.