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The case of the two stolen mainframes

Oz customs grilled for failure to disclose Sydney airport thefts

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Australian politicians are asking some pointed questions after Customs failed to disclose the theft of two servers from Sydney airport last month during a parliamentary inquiry into the security of government IT systems.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that two men posing as computer technicians nicked two mainframe servers after they tricked their way into the Customs cargo processing and intelligence centre on August 27. Police and security services are investigating the incident, the paper reports.

Liberal MP Bob Charles, chairman of the parliamentary IT security inquiry, yesterday demanded to know why Customs didn't come forward to admit the theft to his committee. The inquiry is to reopen.

"How you could appear before us and not tell us about this security breach is just beyond my comprehension," Charles said.

Customs official Gail Batman, who was also asked why she failed to disclose the theft when she testified before a separate inquiry on aviation security earlier this week, told Charles that she didn't want to compromise the ongoing police investigation by making the thefts public.

She said the stolen servers did not contain sensitive information, adding, "they are not servers that are used to communicate with law enforcement or security agencies."

Charles said the theft raised serious issues about government IT security that merited further investigation.

"If someone can walk into a government secure environment and walk out with mainframes, then I don't know what guarantee we have of information technology security," Charles.

"I have just instructed our inquiry secretary to reopen the hearings and reopen the inquiry."

Customs said it had improved its security since the thefts. ®

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