Feeds

GCHQ loses Top Secret laptops

And struggles to recruit net experts

Top three mobile application threats

It is the secretive heart of government information security, dispensing advice and setting standards throughout officialdom, but GCHQ's "cavalier" in-house policies have come under fire in a report revealing it lost 35 laptops.

Three of the missing machines were certified to hold Top Secret material, according to the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).

The losses date back to before 2005, and GCHQ said it now believes the resulting risk is low and it has no evidence that secret material was compromised. Seven out of 35 have since been recovered.

The losses are nevertheless likely to be viewed as very embarrassing at the intelligence agency's Cheltenham HQ. The ISC, a cross-party group of senior MPs that reports to the Prime Minister rather than Parliament, said processes for logging the allocation and location of laptops had been "haphazard" and "not sufficiently robust".

Iain Lobban, director of GCHQ since July 2008, admitted to the ISC that agency laptop policies were lax.

"Historically, we just checked them in and checked them out and updated the records when they went through our... laptop control process," he said.

"I think perhaps some people perhaps took slightly hasty decisions without due process."

Lobban said an internal review had resulted in new procedures that not only allocate laptops, but also annually audit their location.

"Not only do we need to check them when they are moving in and out of the building, but at a particular point in the year we are going to check to say we know exactly where every single one is," he said.

The Committee responded: "This formerly cavalier attitude towards valuable and sensitive assets was unacceptable. Now that proper processes have been introduced, we trust that this problem will not arise again."

The report covers an eight-month period up to July 2009, and reveals GCHQ's struggles to recruit internet security staff.

"Work to tackle the threat of electronic attack is about a third below the level planned," it said.

"We have been told that the shortfall is because of the difficulties GCHQ has had in recruiting and retaining skilled internet specialists in sufficient numbers – although specialist recruitment campaigns have been set up to try and address this problem."

The agency is currently undergoing a massive rewiring to allow it to intercept and analyse more intelligence from internet communications. This includes the Mastering the Internet programme, revealed by The Register last year.

The ISC reported the "critical weaknesses" GCHQ admitted to in its approach to contract management had been addressed. Mastering the Internet, the cost of which is understood to run into hundreds of millions of pounds, involves contractors including Detica, HP and Lockheed-Martin.

"It is also essential that the work is effectively overseen," the Committee warned.

Elsewhere its report revealed that MI5, the Security Service, plans to build four new data halls at its data centre by 2011. ®

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
Putin tells Snowden: Russia conducts no US-style mass surveillance
Gov't is too broke for that, Russian prez says
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Record labels sue Pandora over vintage song royalties
Companies want payout on recordings made before 1972
Edward Snowden on his Putin TV appearance: 'Why all the criticism?'
Denies Q&A cameo was meant to slam US, big-up Russia
Judge halts spread of zombie Nortel patents to Texas in Google trial
Epic Rockstar patent war to be waged in California
Lavabit loses contempt of court appeal over protecting Snowden, customers
Judges rule complaints about government power are too little, too late
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.