Traffic Light Protocol

Classification of documents before distribution is one of the important activities of data managers in organizations. The better part of Information Security lies in properly classifying a document and tagging them properly for every end user to understand what he can do or not do with the document in his hands.

In this connection, it is interesting to observe the document tagging protocol used by US Cert named appropriately as the “Traffic Light Protocol (TLP)“.

Attention to this protocol was drawn with the Obama Government in USA publishing an FBI investigation document that probed into the hacking of e-mails of the Democratic National Committee by suspected Russian hackers which helped expose many of the secrets of Mrs Hillary Clinton and perhaps contributed decisively to the victory of Mr Donald Trump.

While the Obama administration has been livid with the hacking and revelations, and also taken action against many Russians being expelled and agencies being closed down, the information security observers note that the FBI document was released under the TLP as a “White” Document indicating that it can be distributed widely.

The TLP uses colour codes and nomenclatures to designate the documents and define the sharing boundaries.

There are four colour codes under the protocol and they indicate as follows:

“TLP:WHITE” indicates “Unlimited” boundaries for distribution.

“TLP:GREEN”: indicates that the information is meant for limited disclosure restricted to the community.

TLP:AMBER” indicates that the information is meant for limited disclosure restricted to the participant’s organizations

“TLP RED” indicates  “Not for disclosure”, and restricted only to the participants.

The complete definitions are found in the following table (Source: US CERT)


Color When should it be used? How may it be shared?
Not for disclosure, restricted to participants only.
Sources may use TLP:RED when information cannot be effectively acted upon by additional parties, and could lead to impacts on a party’s privacy, reputation, or operations if misused. Recipients may not share TLP:RED information with any parties outside of the specific exchange, meeting, or conversation in which it was originally disclosed. In the context of a meeting, for example, TLP:RED information is limited to those present at the meeting. In most circumstances, TLP:RED should be exchanged verbally or in person.
Limited disclosure, restricted to participants’ organizations.
Sources may use TLP:AMBER when information requires support to be effectively acted upon, yet carries risks to privacy, reputation, or operations if shared outside of the organizations involved. Recipients may only share TLP:AMBER information with members of their own organization, and with clients or customers who need to know the information to protect themselves or prevent further harm. Sources are at liberty to specify additional intended limits of the sharing: these must be adhered to.
Limited disclosure, restricted to the community.
Sources may use TLP:GREEN when information is useful for the awareness of all participating organizations as well as with peers within the broader community or sector. Recipients may share TLP:GREEN information with peers and partner organizations within their sector or community, but not via publicly accessible channels. Information in this category can be circulated widely within a particular community. TLP:GREEN information may not be released outside of the community.
Disclosure is not limited.
Sources may use TLP:WHITE when information carries minimal or no foreseeable risk of misuse, in accordance with applicable rules and procedures for public release. Subject to standard copyright rules, TLP:WHITE information may be distributed without restriction.


More details of the protocol can be found on the website of US CERT. Probably Indian corporates may also use similar tagging protocol for tagging their documents.


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About Vijayashankar Na

Naavi is a veteran Cyber Law specialist in India and is presently working from Bangalore as an Information Assurance Consultant. Pioneered concepts such as ITA 2008 compliance, Naavi is also the founder of Cyber Law College, a virtual Cyber Law Education institution. He now has been focusing on the projects such as Secure Digital India and Cyber Insurance
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