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MoD prays RAF disk thieves aren't data savvy

50,000 RAF IDs on unencrypted disks

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Personal details of potentially all current and ex-RAF personnel and dependents were stored on three USB-connected storage drives which went missing from a Ministry of Defence establishment at Innsworth, Gloucestershire.

Both the MoD police and Gloucester Police are investigating a presumed theft. A statement from the MoD said: "The theft of these hard drives from a secure location, where they were subject to physical protection standards consistent with the Data Handling Review, is being treated with great seriousness.

"There is no indication that the theft was motivated by a desire to obtain the data, nor that the data has been exploited maliciously in any way; but personal information on anyone serving or who has served in recent years in the RAF, Regular or Reservist, may have been compromised."

The station used to be a non-flying RAF base, called Innsworth Camp, housing a number of administrative functions. All records for all RAF men and women were kept at the base and the site was the headquarters of the RAF Personnel and Training Command. The RAF left the site in March this year, but left behind some MoD functions such as the Services Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA), and it was taken over by the 43 (Wessex) Brigade of the Army.

The site has 39 WW2-style wooden framed huts, a single 1970’s hangar and a 17-hectare sports field. According to a Wikipedia entry, the old RAF Command HQ and most other buildings are now empty and being looked after under a care and maintenance program. There are a few hundred staff working at the SPVA and other offices on the site, which is available to film-makers. The overall site security level is not 'that' high.

The three A5 book-sized hard disk drives holding the unencrypted data were stored, it is understood, in a locked cupboard in the SPVA office. Two of the drives contained personnel details such as MoD email addresses, appraisal results, and bank details. The third did not contain any personal details. Access to the room in question is via two successive manned security doors. Visitors need a pass and an escort to pass between the two doors. It's understood that there is no perimeter security for the site.

Laurence Robertson, the MP for Tewkesbury, said: "It is totally unsatisfactory ... It does seem a bit like somebody inside knows something about it. For someone to walk in off the street, know where to find a certain file and walk in and take it, seems a bit strange ... There needs to be a full investigation." That they might have been able to walk in off the street is not the least strange aspect of the affair.

An implication is that the control of perimeter access to the site may have been compromised by the changeover from RAF to Army base supervision, particularly as much of the base is empty and has no perimeter access control. Another implication is that a site visitor whose details were recorded is responsible for the theft.

Current and ex-RAF personnel can call a helpline on 0800 085 3600 to find out more. ®

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