National Security

Secret Service launches investigation into ‘immense’ security breach as computer files left on metro

The lost tapes had only “basic encryption”, meaning they could easily be hacked Photo: ALAMY

By Daniel Bates

The US Secret Service has begun an investigation over an ‘immense’ security breach in which an employee left computer tapes on a metro train.

The worker was taking the sensitive material from the Secret Service HQ in Washington to an off-site facility but left them on the train when he got off.

The tapes contained backup case file information as well as extremely personal data about employees, including dates of birth and addresses.

Adding to the embarrassment is that the tapes had only “very basic encryption”, meaning that they could easily be hacked.

The embarrassing incident came to light during the “Culture of Secret Service” investigation, which was launched after the Colombian prostitute scandal in April.

The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General is carrying out 13 separate probes into the Secret Service, whose agents guard the president.

The data loss happened in 2008 when a contract employee working for a firm which had been hired to transport the tapes volunteered to take them to the vault in Olney, Maryland as he lived nearby.

When he realised his error, the Secret Service notified transit police and the Department of Homeland Security, but they were unable to locate the tapes.

According to Fox News, which first reported the incident, they contained “personally identifiable information” on employees including phone numbers, bank account numbers, passport numbers and biometric information. They also contained backups of a “mishmash of everything” from computers at Secret Service HQ.

The incident is the second time in eight months the Secret Service has been embarrassed by its own staff.

In April, 12 agents were put under investigation for using prostitutes in Cartegena, Columbia, on the eve of President Barack Obama’s official visit – in the very hotel where he was staying.

Eight resigned from their posts whilst the others were cleared of “serious misconduct”, prompting the President to brand them “knuckleheads”.

Amid the fallout, former Secret Service agents and commentators agreed that it was the worst scandal to hit the organisation in decades.

In a statement, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said: “In February of 2008, a contract employee whose function was to maintain, secure and transport this type of information lost two ‘backup’ tapes on the DC Metro while transporting them to an off-site facility.

“These backup tapes were not marked or identified in any way and were protected by multiple layers of security.

“They could not be accessed without the proper equipment, applications and encoding.”

However, another source contradicted this and told Fox News: “It was very basic encryption. Let’s just say it wouldn’t take a genius to crack.

Courtesy: The Telegraph