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Encryption Government Security IT

UK Police Fined For Using Unencrypted Memory Sticks 100

An anonymous reader writes "The Information Commissioner's Office has filed a suit for £120,000 against the Greater Manchester Police because officers regularly used memory sticks without passwords to copy data from police computers and work on it away from the department. In July 2011, thousands of peoples' information was stolen from a officer's home on an unencrypted memory stick. A similar event happened at the same department in September 2010. 'This was truly sensitive personal data, left in the hands of a burglar by poor data security. The consequences of this type of breach really do send a shiver down the spine,' said ICO deputy commissioner David Smith."
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UK Police Fined For Using Unencrypted Memory Sticks

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  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @12:15AM (#41677971)
    Shouldn't they build or buy a system that allows employees to remote in? I work for a school system, and the school resource officers (which are city police officers) just VPN into their network from ours, so that they don't have to physically transport anything. Many of them even use computers provided by us instead of their highly-ruggedized but massively obsolete laptops...
    • remoteing systems cost more then taking data home on a usb key.

        computers provided my then has cost as well.

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        I've got to think that remoting systems cost less than the labor to disinfect office computers from viruses brought in by USB flash media from home computers...
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Remote terminals come out of the capital budget, virus removal comes out of the operations budget.

    • by Froggels ( 1724218 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @01:05AM (#41678217)
      "School resource officers (which are police officers)"

      How orwellian can you get?
      • by SimonTheSoundMan ( 1012395 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @06:01AM (#41679327) Homepage

        They have to have police officers in American schools because gun crime is so bad. In the UK two kids will hit each other, in America a kid will bring a gun to school the next day. I actually thought someone was trolling me when I first heard that American schools have armed police officers.

        http://www.ifpo.org/articlebank/school_officers.html [ifpo.org]

        It all fights fire with fire. Totally backwards and yes, Orwellian.

        • I seem to recall the officers used to be there in case of injuries, or catching kids smoking dope or whatnot. Nowdays they provide actual security too, it seems.

          Makes sense to me, it's one of the few public offices that crams all of our children together on one place for such a long period of time. They should have been there anyway.

          • by Xest ( 935314 )

            "Makes sense to me, it's one of the few public offices that crams all of our children together on one place for such a long period of time. They should have been there anyway."

            Are you actually serious about this?

            You know the rest of the world handles this by, you know, simply teaching kids to get along and just not kill each other right?

            • Don't misunderstand me, I don't mean they should be there to keep the kids in line. I meant they should be there because kids do stupid things, and if a kid breaks a leg an officer should be around just in case.

              Likewise, if some loon wanted to be a crazy, you wouldn't want them to do it in the middle of a concentration of our youths. An officer present on site has a chance of stopping such a thing before any damage could be done.

              You've also got kids who get abused and might fess up to a cop, parents being c

              • by radish ( 98371 )

                What use is a police officer if a kid breaks their leg? What you need is a paramedic. Do you have those stationed at every school as well, just in case? Or do you rely on the same 911 system everyone else does?

                The problem with putting a police officer somewhere where there's nothing for them to do, is that someone will invent something for them to do.

                • Someone (eg parents) will be pointing the finger. An official who can claim something happened (or did not happen) would save the school a lot of trouble.

        • It's really just another position for unions and tax-and-spend government to fill. They are armed because police are always armed.
  • *facepalm* (Score:5, Interesting)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @12:17AM (#41677989)

    Yes, a fine against the police department will certainly show them! Oh wait.. isn't it the taxpayers who pay for their budget... sooo, wouldn't that mean the taxpayers will wind up paying for this? Some of them, twice even -- once for the loss of data, and again when they have to pay for it with their next tax return (admitedly, mere fractions of a pence, but it's the principle of the thing). That seems like a terribly effective method of teaching those officers not to leave sensitive data around! Far more effective, I think, then suspending one without pay or additional training how how to properly handle sensitive information.

    • Yeah, fine the members of the department, so the individuals have to pay the fine. Then see how fast the situation changes.

      • Yeah, fine the members of the department, so the individuals have to pay the fine. Then see how fast the situation changes.

        I am firmly convinced that draconian punishments are counter productive and belong in places like North Korea. Why not just fix the problem? There clearly is a need for carting data around on USB sticks despite other options, else people would not be doing it. How about issuing only laptops/desktops with an OS that has been fixed so as to be unable to export data to anything other than hardware encrypted USB sticks like Iron Key and then make officers responsible for their USB key like officers are responsi

        • "and then make officers responsible for their USB key like officers are responsible for their fire arm if they carry one "

          I would expect officers would be fined and/or suspended w/o pay for losing their firearms. So, this would fall under the 'fine the officers directly for losing these USB sticks' that I suggested.

          Yes, there is a whole training/configuration component, which may or may not have taken place already, but I'm sure there is still some need for access to unencrypted USB keys, so just disabling

    • You can only suspend them if they were actually breaking the force's own rules on storing and transferring data. If they weren't then it's ultimately the force's collective responsibility for failing to put in place a proper data protection policy. You could place the blame entirely at the feet of the chief constable or the GMP Authority, however holding individuals responsible for collective failures never works well.

      • You could place the blame entirely at the feet of the chief constable or the GMP Authority, however holding individuals responsible for collective failures never works well.

        It works better than holding nobody responsible.

      • how about the Official Secrets Act 1911? We are talking about *official Government documents*, after all.

    • Re:*facepalm* (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @02:35AM (#41678583)

      Yes, a fine against the police department will certainly show them! Oh wait.. isn't it the taxpayers who pay for their budget... sooo, wouldn't that mean the taxpayers will wind up paying for this?

      Yes, an organisation that collects fines for the taxpayer has levied a 12,000 pound fine against an organisation that is funded by the taxpayer.

      The greater Manchester police will now have to apply for additional (taxpayer) funding to cover the additional cost of paying a fine to the taxpayers.

      All of this should have been explained in the documentary Yes Minister.

    • Re:*facepalm* (Score:5, Informative)

      by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @03:45AM (#41678853)

      Yes, a fine against the police department will certainly show them! Oh wait.. isn't it the taxpayers who pay for their budget

      It'll come out of their budget. And in a bureaucracy, that's your status. It will certainly make the police take data security seriously, which is the point of the fine, not to collect money for the Exchequer to refund to taxpayers.

    • Is the IT contracted out? I'm guess GMP will try to recoup the fines from the private contractors.

    • Yes, the taxpayers will continue to pay twice until they vote for someone who will fix the problem. This is supposed to be an inducement to the taxpayer to vote for someone else. Unsurprising but dismaying that you don't get this.

    • Not exactly. The police force's overall budget will not be increased, so the taxpayer won't fork out any more, and the money will have to be found from elsewhere, such as the overtime budget for beat officers. It will thus hurt the force a little, and perhaps hurt the public because of the decreased level of service provided.

      How can we ensure that the people responsible are the ones who actually carry the can in cases like this?

  • Sneakernet? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bmo ( 77928 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @12:18AM (#41677997)


    In 2012?

    copy data from police computers and work on it away from the department.

    Really? Aren't there such things as encryption and networks and the data staying on the bloody server?


  • instead of offloading the cost back on the community.
    • no way the union will let that happen and they will likely not even let the officers take the blame.

      Any ways what is there story it was the only way to get there work done and the official way was not in place or there was none?

    • I suspect the Police Federation's argument would be that their members were just using the tools made available to them by the GMP. Unless the officers have been using personal devices to carry out police work, but in that case you'd have to check the rules didn't explicitly state they couldn't, otherwise the GMP almost certainly still has vicarious liability.

  • Is there a way to (easily) turn off USB flash device ability in Linux (particularly Debian variants)?

    All this while also preserving the ability to use USB mice and keyboards?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A burglar invaded an officers home.
    You'd expect the officer to have some form of protection. :D

    • Most policing is focused not on actively preventing crime, but on catching the criminal after the act - and making sure that any potential criminal knows that their eventual capture is probable, thus removing the incentive towards crime.
  • by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @01:08AM (#41678233)
    But a Kanguru encrypted flash drive is like $29! (US) That's A LOT of money for police officer equipment, lol.
    • I get that you're going for a joke, but the sad thing is, this really shouldn't cost anything at all. Assuming the police are using a volume-licensed edition of either Win7 (sadly, it's quite possible that they're still on XP but I would truly hope not), they can use Bitlocker To Go, which is full-volume encryption for removable storage. It's typically protected with a passphrase (though you can use any of a number of things, including multi-factor auth with smartcards and the like as well) and utilizes ver

      • by Anonymous Coward

        If they are using the same supplier as the rest of the Government, they will be running XP and IE6. Sad but true.

        The cabal that supplies IT to the UK Gov makes G4S look good.

        There is a Gov approved product for encryption and control of removable media which I won't disclose here, but it is often bypassed as it is 'fiddly' for the end user.

        Anon for obvious reasons.

      • by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @04:45AM (#41679039)

        They really should have known better - the National Health Service has been lambasted on several occasions for similar data leaks and has thoroughly learned it's lesson. We are not permitted to mount unencrypted USB volumes any more.

        But the encrypted drives we are required to use if we need to transfer data are purchased from a central contract - and cost us £64 ($103) for a 2GB flash unit. I'm not surprised if there is a certain reluctance amongst the police to purchase that kind of deal.

        When I first saw that price I assumed they were some kind of military grade unit with a hardware encryption controller. They are not, they're just partitioned, with a custom driver in the first, plaintext, partition. So they are taking units that were probably about £5 (at the time) and making a very substantial mark-up.

        Our standard advice on what to do with an encrypted drive after we're done with it is not to just wipe the key block, making the data into worthless noise, but to physically destroy it. I'm willing to bet that our friendly encrypted storage vendor thought that one up.

        As you quite rightly say, there are other options. I estimated that I could knock together a solution using TrueCrypt - including all the features that the current solution has, like key escrow - and sell them for about £15 a go. You can't even *buy* 2GB flash drives at my usual retailer any more, or even 4GB units, so they'd have to put up with having 4 times the capacity. But I'd still be making a good margin - those 8GB drives are now around £5 retail. And the TrueCrypt solution has the advantage of working on every platform, not just Windows.

      • by Inda ( 580031 )
        Would that be a suitable solution? Honestly?

        The users around here, even if they managed to enter a password in Truecrypt, would just as happly click "password-hint.exe". And for that reason alone, I'm out.

        We still burn CDs here ffs. It's the default answer to moving files around. We have 10,000 users on the network. A netwrok designed to move files around.
  • Standard... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert@slashdot.fi ... NBSDom minus bsd> on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @02:16AM (#41678509) Homepage

    The problem is that there is simply no standard for encrypted removable storage... It seems every vendor of "encrypted" flash drives ships their own proprietary, usually windows-only binaries on the stick which may or may not work, and may or may not require various levels of privilege in order to install, and may or may not be full of all manner of security holes.
    Pity the poor consultant carrying a windows laptop that contains all these various encryption drivers installed because he never knows what proprietary encryption scheme the next client will be using.

    USB storage is a good standard, you can plug such a device into almost anything and it will be mounted and read... What we need is a similar standard for encrypted storage where you can plug it into almost anything, enter a password and it mounts without having to install any non standard drivers.

    • Would TrueCrypt be a good candidate?

      I'm sure we'd need some way of enforcing vendors to use it though.
      • by jimicus ( 737525 )

        Not really. Ideally you need a system which marries some degree of security with a mechanism to recover lost keys. Few organisations will accept "you lost the password to your encrypted drive? Then you're stuffed. Not even MI5/NSA/FBI/B&Q can help."

        Most commercial encryption products include one or more "user has forgotten their password" recovery mechanisms for exactly this reason.

        • TrueCrypt offers this feature ; you back up the key block (which at that time has a password known to the administrator), and just restore it in the event of a user password loss incident. It even has the appropriate UI to let you do it.

          The commercial product we've used implements this feature by storing redundant key blocks encrypted with the administrators password, which is much less secure - once you know that password, you can access the files on any system.

          The other method of key recovery it supports

          • by jimicus ( 737525 )

            It does, but AFAICT last time I checked, TrueCrypt makes it relatively easy for the end user to change the encryption key that's used and you can't stop the user from doing this. As soon as they do, the backup key block is useless.

            I accept that commercial products that implement other key recovery tools are by definition less secure; what I don't accept is that they are so much less secure you may as well not bother with them in the first place.

            • That isn't true. The key used to encrypt the container is different to the key used to unlock the container. When you supply the password / keyfile to TrueCrypt, it searches for the word "TRUE" in a portion of the container file reserved for this check. If this the case, the password and keyfile are used to decrypt the container key, which is then used to decrypt the volume. If "TRUE" isn't found, the key is incorrect and the container key is not decrypted.

              When you change the password, you change the only
    • Obligatory xkcd: http://xkcd.com/927/ [xkcd.com]
    • You'd just end up with the browser codec fight over again. Microsoft would refuse to build any open standard into Windows if they could possibly help it, and no-one else (Maybe Apple) would be willing to license Microsoft's own technology.
    • by radish ( 98371 )

      The problem is that people are still using removable storage. In my organization it's been banned for years - there's simply no justification for the huge risk involved in letting your data literally walk out the door, encrypted or not (and that doesn't even consider what walks back in on those sticks the next morning). VPN & remote desktop setups are cheap and easy. Use them.

  • by GumphMaster ( 772693 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @02:26AM (#41678557)

    Back in the 90s my home in Canberra (Australia's capital and a government town) was burgled. The first, and I mean very first, thing the police asked on arrival was, "I there any classified information involved?" I was standing there in my Air Force uniform, so I guess it was a reasonable question. Nothing I was working at the time could even remotely be considered safe to take home, encrypted or not, so the answer was a no-brainer. I guess I was dismayed that the event was common enough that the automatic response had kicked in though. Some things, it seems, don't change.

  • ...guaranteed general population jail time for ANY police officer found to be responsible for ANY data leak?

    It would surely be incentive to properly secure data and make sure it fucking stays that way!

  • Every single time I've heard about a large fine like this being imposed for breach of data protection law, there's been background information - usually aggravating circumstances that make the transgression rather worse.

    And so it is here:

    The ICO found that a number of officers across the force regularly used unencrypted memory sticks, which may also have been used to copy data from police computers to access away from the office. Despite a similar security breach in September 2010, the force had not put restrictions on downloading information, and staff were not sufficiently trained in data protection.

    This wasn't one rogue officer breaching policy, this was a complete failure by management to implement a policy some two years after it had become pretty obvious that such a policy needed to exist.

  • My concern isn't so much that the officer had the information on an unencrypted memory stick. Whats more concerning is people in the UK are so safe that a POLICE OFFICERS home was burglarized! Thieves have absolutely NOTHING to fear.
    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      What makes you think the thief even knew it was a police officers home and didn't just carry out a random burglary?

    • Most policing is focused not on preventing crime, but catching the criminals after the act. The high risk of capture than acts as a deterrent to commiting crime. In this case, you can be confident that the full force of the police is going to be thrown into this investigation - they've probably got people searching ebay for items matching those stolen, people collecting all the footage from CCTV cameras in the area and forensics studying the place in their white suits looking for evidence. All the intensive
    • by radish ( 98371 )

      What's so special about a cop's house? I live in the US, there's a police officer lives down the block from me. Now obviously, as a burglar, I wouldn't try and break in while he's home (cruiser parked out front) - but if he's not? House isn't anything special, doesn't even look like it has an alarm.

The primary function of the design engineer is to make things difficult for the fabricator and impossible for the serviceman.