An unencrypted USB stick containing numerous top-secret anti-terror documents was discovered on the street in Manchester, sparking police investigations as to how the device was lost and why it was not encrypted in the first place.
While some countries are adopting a hardline approach on the subject of terrorism, such as India’s requirement to be able to monitor encrypted calls, it seems the UK is taking a much more novel approach: losing files that expose its anti-terrorism plans.
The USB stick contains over 2,000 pages of secret data which only the highest officers in the police force were ever intended to see, not for the eyes of a random passer-by who saw a pen drive lying on the ground.
The security disaster was discovered after a 34-year-old businessman, who asked not to be named, happened upon the USB stick on the pavement just outside a police station in Stalybridge, Manchester. And yes, that was the police station that actually owned the stick; somehow they managed to lose it on their own doorstep. Maybe someone was drunk and thought it was their keys.
So Mr. Anonymous does what anyone does when they find a USB drive outside a police station: he plugged it into his laptop and had a nosey about. To his utter dismay he discovered the confidential files, which include the Manual on Guidance of Keeping the Peace, a counter-terrorism document, and even a full list of police officers’ names, ranks, and divisions.
All it needed was home addresses, phone numbers and a stamped addressed envelope to the nearest terrorist cell.
Mr. Anonymous then decided to do the right thing and contact the Daily Star, a British tabloid, to tell all and sundry about the cock-up.
“It is scandalous that someone in the police, presumably a high-ranking officer, has been clumsy and negligent enough to lose information as powerful as this,” he said. “If a terrorist group got hold of this, they could see which officers specialised in what field and where they should target. There are even diagrams of crowd control scenes. If this got into the wrong hands, they would be one step ahead of the police all the time. The information in there is dynamite.”
Luckily enough it did not get into the wrong hands or it may have been even more, er, explosive.
What makes the matter worse is that the device was not encrypted. This is becoming a trend with sensitive information in the UK, where previous incidents have resulted in the private data of 9,000 children being stolen, and nothing is being done about it. It is bad enough for a local council to fail to encrypt sensitive material, but for the police to not encrypt anti-terrorism documents boggles the mind and makes us question just how capable the people in charge really are.
In traditional British candidness, a high-ranking officer said: “Whoever lost this information will be in for a right rollicking.”
We cannot confirm whether or not this is how Wikileaks gathers its information. For anything relating to the UK – we wouldn’t be surprised.