Were alleged Russian spies undone by technology problems?

Password security needed improvement, too

What's Russian for "geek?" The recently busted alleged Russian spy ring apparently was in serious need of tech support, according to published reports.

Their problems included misconfigured wireless networks, users writing passwords on slips of paper and laptop help desk issues, wrote reporter Tim Greene in Network World.

"One of the most glaring errors made by one of the spy defendants was leaving an imposing 27-character password written on a piece of paper that law enforcement officers found while searching a suspect's home," Greene reported. "They used the password to crack open a treasure trove of more than 100 text files containing covert messages used to further the investigation."

The password gave investigators access to the alleged spies' steganography program, a sophisticated technology used to hide messages in digital files and retrieve them over the Web. Using steganography, for example, a spy could embed classified information in the digital code of a .jpg and post it on a blog. Any changes to the image that the hidden code caused would be nearly unnoticeable, and someone with the right decoder could download the picture and extract it.

The suspected spies also apparently had recurring problems with laptops that froze during file transfer, and wireless networks they could never get configured correctly, Greene reported.

The steganography software the spies used was apparently outdated, and that, even aside from the written-down password, might have led to their exposure, according to Sally Adee, writing in DiscoveryNews.

The alleged spies used older software that leaves detectable traces, Adee wrote. "Instead of leaving behind an artifact of your wrong-doing for the Justice Department to download, new stego programs use ephemeral channels that disappear when the communication has been completed," she reported. "It's called network steganography. You can do it in real time, you can transmit huge amounts of data, and you can do it without leaving behind any artifacts to implicate you."

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

Featured

  • Contracting
    8 prototypes of the border walls as tweeted by CBP San Diego

    DHS contractors face protests – on the streets

    Tech companies are facing protests internally from workers and externally from activists about doing for government amid controversial policies like "zero tolerance" for illegal immigration.

  • Workforce
    By Mark Van Scyoc Royalty-free stock photo ID: 285175268

    At OPM, Weichert pushes direct hire, pay agent changes

    Margaret Weichert, now acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, is clearing agencies to make direct hires in IT, cyber and other tech fields and is changing pay for specialized occupations.

  • Cloud
    Shutterstock ID ID: 222190471 By wk1003mike

    IBM protests JEDI cloud deal

    As the deadline to submit bids on the Pentagon's $10 billion, 10-year warfighter cloud deal draws near, IBM announced a legal protest.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.