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Afghan market sells US military flash drives

Bazaar security breach

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Purloined flash drives containing classified US military secrets have turned up for sale in a bazaar in Afghanistan. Shopkeepers in the marketplace in Bagram claim the kit was sold to them by cleaners, garbage collectors and other local workers at the nearby US airbase.

The LA Times reports that flash memory drives from the base are being sold in the second hand bins of the local marketplace, alongside knives, watches, refrigerators and packets of Viagra also taken from the base. The paper reports that the stolen computer drives could expose military secrets (base defence information and the names of allegedly corrupt Afghan officials, for example) as well as the social security numbers and other personal information of military personnel to all and sundry.

An LA Times reporter bought flash disks at the bazaar that listed the names of suspected militants among other secrets that included the personal details of 700 US troops. Failure to securely dispose of hard disk drives that subsequently end up for sale is an issue that also affects mainstream businesses.

Two years ago we reported how a customer database and the current access codes to the supposedly secure Intranet of one of Europe's largest financial services group was left on a hard disk offered for sale on eBay. The disk was subsequently purchased for just £5 by mobile security outfit Pointsec Mobile Technologies.

Last April Oxfordshire-based security firm SecureTest found sensitive MoD-related files on a laptop bought from council rubbish dump. Governments have standards mandating the secure destruction of data (such as the UK's InfoSec standard 5) but departments often fail to follow government guidelines while commercial firms are often ignorant of the issue.

A study by data destruction firm Life Cycle Service and Glamorgan University found that nearly half of a sample of over 100 discarded hard drives contained personal information, contravening the Data Protection Act. One in five (20 per cent) contained financial information about the organisations which owned the disks. Less then 10 per cent of the drives left functional were completely clear of data. ®

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