Feeds

MoD: We lost 87 classified USB sticks since 2003

Over-use of secrecy leads to bullethole in foot

The essential guide to IT transformation

The UK Ministry of Defence has told parliament that it has lost or had stolen some 87 USB sticks holding "protectively marked" - ie classified - material since 2003. However, almost all the devices were marked at the lowest grade of classification, and even the remaining few are unlikely to have contained information of any significance.

According to a written parliamentary answer by Defence minister Bob Ainsworth on Wednesday, which can be viewed here, 81 of the devices held "Restricted" data. Restricted is a blanket classification which the MoD tends to use for almost any document it generates; marking something "Unclassified" - free for anyone to look at - runs against the Ministry's institutional culture. "Restricted" is so overused that it is meaningless, effectively the same as Unclassified (unless perhaps accompanied by an additional handling caveat indicating that there might be privacy issues, as in the case of individuals' promotion reports).

One further USB stick, lost in 2006, held "Confidential" data, the next level up. This isn't really much different from Restricted, though such documents are supposed to be more securely held and handled. You're supposed to shred Confidential hard copies rather than just chuck them in the bin, for instance. Even so, this kind of info can be freely discussed with families and even friends in many cases.

Five further sticks were marked "Secret", which is theoretically the penultimate level of UK classification. In fact, so profligate is the use of the Restricted and Confidential labels that Secret information is generally more like what you would expect Restricted to be - things you'd like to keep mainly in-house but you aren't going to make a big deal about it.

Actual important secret stuff starts to appear at the Top Secret level, but the MoD isn't admitting to having lost any of that. TS is the highest grade of protective marking, but in fact it has many subdivisions and add-ons which typically require special, extra vetting and clearances. Then there are national caveats: any TS info which isn't also marked at the very least "UK/US/AUS/CAN/NZ Eyes Only" is probably not all that exciting. You wouldn't normally let le tout NATO see anything very hot.

So, if we're to believe the MoD, they haven't really lost anything of significance on USB sticks in the last few years. However, one does note that Mr Ainsworth says "the figures... continue to be adjusted as a result of additional thefts and losses along with subsequent clarification of historic incidents"; and that most of the missing sticks were apparently stolen in just one year, 2006. This suggests that actually this information is more than a little bit incomplete.

All in all, though, the MoD has created a problem for itself here where none needed to exist. If it weren't so institutionally prone to unnecessarily marking things as secrets, it could have stood up in Parliament and said "we haven't lost any protectively marked thumb drives at all". ®

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

More from The Register

next story
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
EU justice chief blasts Google on 'right to be forgotten'
Don't pretend it's a freedom of speech issue – interim commish
Detroit losing MILLIONS because it buys CHEAP BATTERIES – report
Man at hardware store was right: name brands DO last longer
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
Yes, but what are your plans if a DRAGON attacks?
Local UK gov outs most ridiculous FoI requests...
This'll end well: US govt says car-to-car jibber-jabber will SAVE lives
Department of Transportation starts cogs turning for another wireless comms standard
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.