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British MoD Stunned By Massive Data Loss 166

Posted by timothy
from the austin-powers-meets-the-peter-principle dept.
Master of Transhuman writes "Seems like nobody can keep their data under wraps these days. On the heels of the World Bank piece about massive penetrations of their servers, the British Ministry of Defense has lost a hard drive with the personal details of 100,000 serving personnel in the British armed forces, and perhaps another 600,000 applicants. This comes on the heels of the MoD losing 658 of its laptops over the past four years and 26 flash drives holding confidential information. Apparently the MoD outsources this stuff to EDS, which is under fire for not being able to confirm that the data was or was not encrypted."
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British MoD Stunned By Massive Data Loss

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  • Hardly 3 hours (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Hardly 3 hours since the last post on /. about
    UK Govt wanting to spy.

    • Re:Hardly 3 hours (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Goldberg's Pants (139800) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @05:10AM (#25337781) Journal

      They want to spy more so they can gather more information to lose.

      Seriously, lately it seems not a week goes by without some ridiculous data leak in the UK. Whether it be thumbdrives that automatically log into private networks, laptops being stolen, documents being left on a train, confidential information being lost in the post etc...

      They won't need the Data Protection Act much longer in the UK because there'll be no data left to protect as it'll all have been leaked.

      • by gbjbaanb (229885) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @10:03AM (#25338981)

        or they're just moving to a more distributed data system, they want to spy on you so they can see the data you now hold. Its like a bittorrent data-storage solution, all these 'lost' laptops and pendrives is a secret mechanism of distributing the data in the most widely and random way - thus adding to the security of the overall system, as no-one else knows where its ended up.

        See, its simple really :-)

    • Re:Hardly 3 hours (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Dr. Hellno (1159307) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @05:34AM (#25337903)

      "I'm just looking forward to when the data gets lost."

      From the summary of that post. 3 hours ago.

      ...Holy Crap.

      We know they're abusing their power. We know that they're incompetent!
      And it never changes! It just happens again and again and again!
      I don't know whether to laugh or cry or scream or kill or just give up anymore. I just don't know.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Firehed (942385)

        We know they're abusing their power. We know that they're incompetent!

        And it never changes! It just happens again and again and again!

        Isn't that the definition of a government?

        • by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @08:15AM (#25338475)

          Isn't that the definition of a government?

          Not really. Where I work [irs.gov], any laptop connected to the network is checked at every connection for the presence of active full disk encryption software. If it isn't found (which can happen when computers are being built and the encryption installation hasn't been completed) then an immediate alert is sent to the support staff nearest the machine. In response to that alert, the machine must be encrypted or seized immediately. We're talking same-day action, here, with the consequence of inaction being that someone gets fired.

          The result is that when we lose (usually through theft but the method is unimportant in this context) a laptop, we can immediately report that said laptop was fully encrypted and no data was lost or is at risk.

          If we need to let a contractor on our network, we set up one of our laptops to meet all security requirements and lend that hardware to the contractor. No contractor is allowed to put their machine on our network.

          Finally, when data is written to removable media, it's encrypted. We run a software package (Guardian Edge) that forces all writes to removable media to be encrypted. It's a pain sometimes, but it's the least we can do to keep the publics private data safe.

          Frankly, I'm shocked that the MOD would accept less stringent practices on the part of contractors. I know we don't.

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Great job, way to piss on our parade of mocking government incompetence. I hope you're happy with yourself.

            (Please don't audit me!)

          • My dad works for a company contracted to do some system for skynet (yes they seriously called their new satellite network skynet WTF) and all his files are stored remotely via a VPN* w/ keycard, even though his local hard drive is encrypted and all hes doing is writing the training manual for the system.

            I seriously doubt the MOD would accept less stringent practices on the contractors, wether the contractors fucked up or not is another question.

            which is good as his laptop can only connect to WEP wireless be

          • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @10:54AM (#25339295) Homepage

            there's no inherent reason for the government to be incompetent. but it's always those who want to cut down on public infrastructure and social welfare programs that are incompetent themselves. of course when you elect such people into government they make a complete mess of things and use their own incompetence as an excuse to hand these roles over to the private sector.

            i mean, how can you put people who don't believe in public infrastructure in charge of public infrastructure? it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

            • MOD PARENT UP (Score:4, Insightful)

              by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @11:40AM (#25339643)

              This:

              how can you put people who don't believe in public infrastructure in charge of public infrastructure?

              is one of the best questions I've ever seen posted on Slashdot. With an election looming, it's a question that every voter should ask themselves. Whoever modded it flamebait is a dufus.

          • by Firehed (942385)

            Thanks for killing my joke, but since you answered seriously - what kind of tricky stuff are you doing to detect full-disk encryption on any machine that touches the network? And more importantly (assuming that this requires a boot-time password; I've never bothered with any serious encryption), do you have something that detects the sticky note on the bottom of the laptop with said password?

            I guess I can sleep a little better knowing that the IRS is working hard to ensure that they only screw me over once

            • by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @12:20PM (#25339919)

              what kind of tricky stuff are you doing to detect full-disk encryption on any machine that touches the network?

              I don't know. I'm on the receiving end of those alerts, so I know they happen. Exactly how, I'm not sure. Our logon scripts do all sorts of stuff, including automatically installing updates to vertical apps, so checking for full disk encryption wouldn't seem to be too hard a task. I know there are certain files on the machines that do not exist until encryption has been installed and fully enabled. I assume that looking for them would be trivial. But that's just a guess.

              To show you how tight our scans are, we had a contractor who plugged a personally-owned USB key into his IRS-issued laptop. It contained some basic maintenance tools as well as some network monitoring tools. He wanted some simple utility, I forget which one, and instead of asking for it through channels he just plugged in his copy. Literally *5* minutes after he plugged in the key, his machine was deleted from the domain and his personal identifier was wiped from all systems, just like we do when someone is fired. 5 minutes after that, his boss got a call from our security office explaining that the employee was being reviewed for termination. The boss explained that he was a good guy, new to the organization, just made a mistake, and asked for some slack. Ultimately, the guy got a two-week suspension and then had to re-build everything (system access permissions, etc.) as if he were newly hired.

              I really don't question the notion that our monitoring does a good job of catching any funny business.

              And more importantly (assuming that this requires a boot-time password; I've never bothered with any serious encryption), do you have something that detects the sticky note on the bottom of the laptop with said password?

              This is one of the areas where we take a notably sensible approach. Our security rules that each person must sign and obey do NOT prohibit writing down passwords. It's officially discouraged but not prohibited. We take the attitude that as long as that list is protected, like people protect their ID card, door key card, and credit card, there's no problem.

              Nobody puts a sticker on the bottom of their laptop or keyboard. We have constant security inspections, usually after hours, and doing crap like that gets you disciplined severely.

              I wont go into excess detail (which, by itself, would be a violation of our security rules) but suffice it to say that if you wanted to steal and get data off an IRS laptop, you'd have to mug the user, get their password list, know their internal ID (which no one writes down because we use it constantly) then mug a different person with local machine administrator credentials, get logons and passwords from that person, then know exactly where to type all of them in without making more than three mistakes to lock up the machine.

              The only people who could successfully get information off our laptops would be our admins. But we can get to that stuff internally, already, so that's not a realistic threat.

              Realistically, the only thing a thief can do with a stolen IRS laptop is wipe it, install an OS, and use it.

              • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

                by byronf (649750)

                I wont go into excess detail (which, by itself, would be a violation of our security rules) but suffice it to say that if you wanted to steal and get data off an IRS laptop, you'd have to mug the user, get their password list, know their internal ID (which no one writes down because we use it constantly) then mug a different person with local machine administrator credentials, get logons and passwords from that person, then know exactly where to type all of them in without making more than three mistakes to lock up the machine.

                What if I find a disenfranchised employee, and offer money?

                • What if I find a disenfranchised employee, and offer money?

                  That has happened. But if the employee uses their own credentials to get the data, the leak will be traced to them. If you compromise an admin, you'll get caught even quicker because we're so closely monitored.

                  But, I'll grant you, it can happen. I've known of three cases that happened geographically close to me over the last 25 years. In two cases, the employees were marched out in handcuffs. In the third, the employee was arrested at home.

              • by ydrol (626558)
                Why not suggest to your IT Security people that they can just disable the USB drivers. Also I hope that the guys training/induction mentioned that unauthorised USB sticks are prohibited and ninjas will smash through the office partitions if you try to use one.
                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  your IT Security people that they can just disable the USB drivers

                  We'd have to quell a revolt. Some of our people have repeated needs to move multi-gig data files from place to place. USB sticks have been a godsend. Given that some of our offices have such poor connectivity to the rest of the world, large file transfers used to require overnight or longer planning. Just moving a file from cube to manager's office for review could take hours. Now that they can sneakernet or mail a USB stick to move a

                • If you disable USB entirely, you disable touchpads, mice, and external CD drives necessary for laptops without DVD drives built in. Disabling the 'write' capability for those is awkward. And you'd better believe that I can attach a local networked memory device, such as a dumb web server, without detection unless the IT staff have invested one hell of a lot of effort in tracking and detection equipment.

                  Such detection is possible, but awfully expensive to set up. Very few facilities bother.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by VJ42 (860241) *
            It's the same the world over, the only part of government that does it's job well is the one the citizens wish would fail miserably.
            Seriously, the IRS, or HMRC here in the UK, would track down Osama bin laden if owed them a penny. Unfortunately, it seems he must file his tax returns on time...
            • That's funny stuff. I laughed, until I remembered that I used to be a field officer. During that time, part of my job was finding people who didn't want to be found. One time, nearly 20 years ago, I found a guy hiding in China. He owed very little money (less than $USD50K, given the size cases I had back then) but I just got a wild hair about finding him, worked all the angles, and eventually turned him up. Hint - If you can find someone's mother, you can find them.

              BTW - What's HMRC? I thought the ta

              • It was the Inland Revenue. No service. Then it merged with HM Customs and Excise. Everybody thought excise was a silly word so they took the chance to drop it.
    • UK Government Says More Spying Needed [slashdot.org] Sat Oct 11, '08 01:32 AM
      from the need-to-make-up-for-the-losses dept

  • No, no, no (Score:5, Informative)

    by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Saturday October 11, 2008 @04:47AM (#25337677) Homepage Journal

    the British Ministry of Defense has lost a hard drive with the personal details of 100,000 serving personnel

    No. EDS lost a hard-drive, belonging to the MoD. Had to get that in before the "Government is intrinsically incompetent" posse got here. EDS, a privately owned and run subsidiary of Hewlett-Packard, subcontracting to the MoD, were responsible for the security of this drive, and they, not anyone at the MoD did the losing here.

    • Re:No, no, no (Score:4, Insightful)

      by drsquare (530038) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @05:04AM (#25337749)

      What exactly is the MoD doing sending out sensitive data to foreign private contractors? In fact, why are they giving anyone data at all?

      Fuck Labour.

      • Re:No, no, no (Score:4, Informative)

        by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Saturday October 11, 2008 @05:08AM (#25337767) Homepage Journal

        Fuck Labour.

        What? Do you really believe a politician made the decision on whom to outsource data management too?
        Are you familiar with the concept of a civil service at all? Do you know who runs the day-to-day operations for the MoD?

        Clue: Decisions like "Which subcontractor should we hire" are not made by the Secretary of State for Defence.

        • Re:No, no, no (Score:5, Insightful)

          by cyber-vandal (148830) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @05:23AM (#25337853) Homepage

          But the overuse of external subcontractors is a political decision. Fuck New Labour and fuck the Tories who started it all.

        • by dnwq (910646)
          Minister of Defence.

          "Secretary of State for Defence" doesn't really make sense anyway ;)
        • Re:No, no, no (Score:5, Insightful)

          by hdparm (575302) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @05:36AM (#25337911) Homepage

          Why are you so apologetic on behalf of the British government? The drive was the responsibility of MoD. This includes the choice of people and/or organisations who do the handling. Likewise, even if the EDS was not the minister's choice, he should have been sacked because he hasn't made the decisions of this magnitude his choice.

        • by drsquare (530038)

          So you're telling me that the civil service made the decision to outsource sensitive data all by themselves? Even if they did, then either Labour knew about it and did nothing, meaning they were culpable, or didn't know about it, in which case they're incompetent.

          Sorry but whichever way you look at it, your party and government are horrendously terrible.

      • Re:No, no, no (Score:4, Informative)

        by SoupIsGoodFood_42 (521389) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @06:51AM (#25338155)

        Fuck Labour.

        Yeah, because they are the ones who are more likely to out source work to a private company, right? Last time I checked, parties like Labour generally prefer that the government did it themselves, even if it costs more, and it's the opposition who are the ones who like to out source and privatise things.

      • by canuck57 (662392)

        Fuck Labour.

        I have NEVER>/b> in my day seen a security breach that didn't rest on managements shoulders. Lax policies, no thought into process or control, apathy towards security, starve the security budget because you can't watch porn undetected, side with lazy cannot change types, but it all comes down to incompetence of management every time. Now you can't put that in a report to management, but it is the truth.

        Reports to management need a fall guy, usually the person on the front line that does not have the

    • Re:No, no, no (Score:5, Informative)

      by CountBrass (590228) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @05:58AM (#25337983)
      And who decided that EDS were competent to manage the MoD's data? That would be the MoD i.e. the government. So it is the Government that is intrinsically incompetent: they have a history of either handing over vast amounts of private data to untrustworthy companies (EDS, PA Consulting, Capgemini) or of losing it themselves (HMRC, Home Office, SIS).

      In law under the Data Protection Act the MoD, not EDS, are the Data Controller and therefore responsible for losing it.
    • EDS lost a hard-drive, belonging to the MoD.

      I beginning to wonder if this is deliberate on EDS's part. In the U.S. Navy NMCI contract, they have lost drives and created vast security stand-down efforts while trying to create one big happy Navy network, which, btw, has resulted in a net increase in Networks and domains rather than the intended reduction.

      I'm starting to believe this is part of something else.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mpe (36238)
      EDS lost a hard-drive, belonging to the MoD. Had to get that in before the "Government is intrinsically incompetent" posse got here.

      Maybe instead of paying 12 billion quid to spy on the British public it should instead be used to spy on EDS...

      EDS, a privately owned and run subsidiary of Hewlett-Packard, subcontracting to the MoD, were responsible for the security of this drive, and they, not anyone at the MoD did the losing here.

      WTF was the MoD doing letting this data near any foreign company? At the
      • by Soruk (225361)

        It was outsourced to one of two British companies, Systems Designers or SciCon (who bought SD).

        Then along came EDS and bought SciCon.

  • As if that question makes an appreciable difference. Encrypted or not, data loss is data loss. It's bad security practice. Having the data encrypted will do just a tiny bit to save face, but it will hardly stop anyone who wants in.

    • by mccalli (323026)
      Having the data encrypted will do just a tiny bit to save face, but it will hardly stop anyone who wants in

      Really? Let me know when you've finished breaking TrueCrypt then, or PGP, or BitLocker, or FileVault. I'll be the one waiting over here. For a very, very long time...

      Cheers,
      Ian
    • This is the truth, anyone arguing can talk about semantics but it's just a matter of time before the data can be decrypted. Encryption is great for network security, when someone has limited access to connections, systems and physical access. When someone has access to the hardware it's only a matter of longer wait times, depending on the skill and equipment that the cracker has.

      In this sense, it is perfectly logical for individuals who need portable access to the data to be personally and professionally

  • by kaos07 (1113443) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @04:53AM (#25337695)
    Enough said.
  • I can! (Score:5, Funny)

    by matt4077 (581118) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @04:56AM (#25337715) Homepage
    I can confirm that the data was or was not encrypted.
  • by MoFoQ (584566) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @05:04AM (#25337751)

    this is the reason why the brits have to spy more....'cuz it's about quantity.....if u have more data coming in.....than that is going out (aka losing)...then u'r golden.

    (I don't think it's a coincidence that this was posted after the bit about the brits needing to spy more)

  • by argiedot (1035754) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @05:16AM (#25337815) Homepage

    The only time I have ever lost a device is when I was mugged and my phones were taken from me and I'm just any other person.

    It should be interesting to see what the ratio of laptops lost to all laptops provided is. Maybe this cynicism is because I live in India where corruption is rampant and entire flyovers can be 'lost', but I'm a bit suspicious about this whole thing.

    Also, if they're losing laptops with information at such a high rate, at what rate are they losing paper files? Surely it's harder to keep track of the 20 binders with 100 sheets in them than it is to keep track of one hard drive?

    I find it hard to believe that these people are really that incompetent. Hanlon's Razor doesn't always apply.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 11, 2008 @05:52AM (#25337963)

      Business travellers in the US and Europe lose a staggering 15,648 laptops per week, according to a new study by Dell. [itpro.co.uk]

      So one shouldn't be surprised that laptops go missing, if the study is anything like accurate.

    • by somersault (912633) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @06:20AM (#25338055) Homepage Journal

      It was standard practice for our head of accounting to take our backup tapes home for a few years. This year I saw some of our tapes just lying out in plain view on the passenger seat of his car, so I politely showed him a couple of stories about data loss when tapes were stolen from cars, and have been taking the tapes home myself now..

      • by pimpimpim (811140)
        Would the head of accounting from the 60's ever have the idea to make copies of all binders and bring them home, in case the office would burn down? Electronic data really is "smaller" than its paper counterpart, and also more easily moved to other devices, laptops, pcs, etc. BTW I'm sorry for you that you have to take over the questionable practice of taking the tapes home, just because someone else did it in a worse way. Are you sure that you want to carry the liability in case the tapes get stolen from y
        • How is it a questionable practice? Fires may not be very likely, and the servers are on the first floor (second in American terms) so we're not likely to have problems in a flood, but it's always better safe than sorry.

          What would you do personally if you had ~250GB of data from various servers that needed to be regularly backed up? Would you still backup to tape but then just store them in a fireproof safe onsite? That should protect the tapes from most disasters, but you just never know, do you? We regular

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Phroggy (441)

            How is it a questionable practice? Fires may not be very likely, and the servers are on the first floor (second in American terms) so we're not likely to have problems in a flood, but it's always better safe than sorry.

            What would you do personally if you had ~250GB of data from various servers that needed to be regularly backed up? Would you still backup to tape but then just store them in a fireproof safe onsite? That should protect the tapes from most disasters, but you just never know, do you? We regularly have large cranes in the yard - if one of them were to topple or swing a heavy 20 foot container through the server room wall or something crazy like that, it could do some serious damage.

            I think what the GP was saying was, I wouldn't want the liability associated with taking the tapes home myself. I mean, what if somebody did break into my car, or whatever? What if I got in an accident on my way home, and the tapes were destroyed? If there's any problem, I don't want to take them blame.

            That's why I would pay somebody else to take care of it for me. Fortunately, it turns out that there's a company called EDS that offers just such a service! They do this kind of thing for plenty of other

  • by Firefalcon (7323) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @05:35AM (#25337905) Homepage Journal

    ...of why we shouldn't be outsourcing critical/sensitive data handling. Yes, Government departments can cock-up enough without external help, but so many of these data loss issues at the moment seem to be the fault of a private company they've outsourced to.

    Also, I worry about the outsourcing of anything relating to our Country's security. When you give the job to the lowest bidder, what can you expect but a barely adequate service?

    • by mpe (36238)
      ...of why we shouldn't be outsourcing critical/sensitive data handling.

      Especially if you then add to the problem by outsourcing it to foreigners.

      Also, I worry about the outsourcing of anything relating to our Country's security.

      It appears that these people don't understand "national security". IMHO this includes restricting certain things to people who are citizens of only the relevent country. Excluding duel citizens or people who could claim citizenship of another country (this includes the situatio
  • Cause [slashdot.org] => Effect [slashdot.org]
  • Rather unfortunate to place this directly above the article on the front page saying that the British Government needs more spies... :)

  • And specific knowledge begets its own.

    Isn't it obvious?

  • Those responsible will be reassigned to the domestic surveillance project!

  • All of the recent data catastrophes seem to be happening in Britain?

    And in the face of this, the UK government is upping the surveillance, too. "Don't worry, nobody except us is ever going to see your private data. You can trust us."

  • "Slashdot is U.S.-centric. We readily admit this, and really don't see it as a problem. Slashdot is run by Americans, after all, and the vast majority of our readership is in the U.S. We're certainly not opposed to doing more international stories, but only if we're slagging off other countries. Positive stories about anywhere other than the US are frowned upon."

  • Those of us that remember the British cars and motor cycles of years gone by know the absence of leaks had to be due to a dry sump, a seized engine is waiting when no leak is discernible.

    With the automotive industry all but gone from the UK this national obsession with making things leak has been taken to a new industry.
    They know what they're doing.
  • by gilgongo (57446) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @11:25AM (#25339517) Homepage Journal

    From TFA:

    "The portable drive contains the names, addresses, passport numbers, dates of birth and driving licence details of around 100,000 serving personnel across the Army, Royal Navy and RAF, plus their next-of-kin details. "

    Wow. Just... wow.

    The person who finds this and wants to exploit it would become unimaginably rich on stolen identities for pretty much the rest of their lives. I suppose if the MoD have a record of exactly who's details were on the disk, they could re-issue things like national insurance numbers and driving licences to prevent that, but even then the possibilities for other avenues of exploitation using this information would be huge (next of kin, for pity's sake!!).

    Data like this needs to be treated as if it were nuclear waste or a volatile explosive mixture. It would be just about OK to have a list of 100,000 driving licence numbers if these were kept physically separate from, say, names and addresses (eg keying them on a one-time ID), but when certain classes of data are kept TOGETHER like this, it should be every right-thinking person's reaction to scream the house down in panic.

    We have to assume that at some point, all data will leak out somewhere. All we can do is to to ensure than when it does, it's not actionable. Oh, and by the way - you can forget encryption. People don't understand it and in most cases those who steal data will steal or otherwise obtain the keys as well.

    • by mpe (36238)
      "The portable drive contains the names, addresses, passport numbers, dates of birth and driving licence details of around 100,000 serving personnel across the Army, Royal Navy and RAF, plus their next-of-kin details. "
      Data like this needs to be treated as if it were nuclear waste or a volatile explosive mixture. It would be just about OK to have a list of 100,000 driving licence numbers if these were kept physically separate from, say, names and addresses (eg keying them on a one-time ID), but when certain

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