December 4, 2012

Disgruntled Swiss Tech Steals Terabytes Of Intelligence Data

Intelligence agencies from Britain and the United States have been warned today that several terabytes of sensitive information may have been compromised, according to a Reuters report.

An unnamed source has told Reuters that a senior IT technician with Switzerland’s intelligence agency, the NDB, has stolen large amounts of data and may have leaked the data online. Now, the NDB has warned Britain and the US that their data may have been a part of the theft.

The technician in question, whose name is not mentioned in the Reuters piece, is suspected of walking off with the data last summer. Swiss authorities arrested the man but later released him from prison while Switzerland’s Federal Attorney General conducted a criminal investigation concerning this case.

The IT technician in question is said to have worked with the NDB for about 8 years. In this time, he received “administrator rights,” giving him clearance to “most or all” of the NDB’s networks, including stashes of secret data. One European source has told Reuters that this technician had become disgruntled when his advice and ideas on how to run the data systems were not heeded. This man reportedly became so upset that moved terabytes worth of classified material from the NDB’s servers and onto portable hard drives. Once the data had been moved, the technician  placed these hard drives in his backpack and carried them outside of the building. Swiss authorities now believe this man had intended to sell this stolen data to commercial buyers or foreign officials.

The CIA and Britain’s MI6 have shared data on counter-terrorism and other kinds of information with the NDB, information which Reuters’ sources say have now been compromised as a result of this theft.

These portable hard drives containing the sensitive information were seized when this technician was arrested. Swiss authorities believe they captured the stolen data before the man had any chance to sell or otherwise get rid of this data.

According to Reuters, however, one source has said the Swiss investigators cannot be so sure the man did not have time to pass the information along before his arrest. This, said the source, is why the NDB now feels obligated to alert the CIA and MI6 about this missing data. While neither the US intelligence agency nor the British intelligence agency had any official statement following this report, Reuters has said one US official had not yet heard of the case.

Swiss officials announced their investigation into this case in September, noting that they were not allowed to disclose the identity of the technician in question.

When these Swiss officials brought up the case in a September press release, they said they believed the technician had planned to sell the foreign that he stole from the NDB. These officials did not, however, mention that the data had originated in Britain or the US.

Now that the investigation has been ongoing for several months, one European source familiar with the case has said the technician had displayed warning signs months before he was arrested; Signs which the investigators now believe should have tipped off his supervisors or other security officials. According to Swiss news reports, the NDB hadn’t become aware of the missing data until UBS, the largest Swiss bank, reached out to NDB authorities when the technician suspiciously tried to set up a new numbered bank account.

A Swiss parliamentary committee is now conducting their own investigation into this theft and are expected to issue a full report in the spring.

Image Credit: voyager624 / Shutterstock

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