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US and UK spooks alerted over massive Swiss data leak

Rogue IT admin plundered state secrets

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The Swiss intelligence agency (NDB) has been warning its US and UK counterparts that it may have lost terabytes of their secret information, thanks to one of its IT administrators pulling an inside job.

The rogue administrator, whom a source described to Reuters as "very talented," had admin rights to most of the NBD's servers, including sensitive files contributed from other agencies such as Britain's MI6 and the CIA. He'd worked at the NDB for eight years but was reportedly disgruntled at his job and felt management were ignoring his suggestions on systems management.

The source said that the admin had been exhibiting warning signs, like failing to show up for work on a regular basis, and had copied large amounts of data onto small portable drives and smuggled them out of the office in his backpack. It is believed he was trying to sell the data to third parties.

The NDB were only alerted when the Swiss bank UBS told them of a suspicious attempt to set up a numbered account. Investigators raided the admin's home and found large numbers of files stashed on portable drives.

It appears at this stage that he was raided before he managed to sell any of the data, but the NDB has informed partner agencies just in case. Nevertheless, it's an embarrassing situation for the Swiss, given that country's reputation for secrecy and reliability. A Swiss parliamentary committee has been set up to examine the affair and is expected to issue a report in the spring.

While you'd expect the NDB would have some sort of data tracking system to monitor who was downloading what, it's also likely that a senior administrator would have been able to find a way around it. It's another case of a "Layer 8" security problem that's very difficult to deal with.

Here in San Francisco, we had our own version of this with the case of Terry Childs, who was one of the chief admins on the city's intranet. In a fit of pique he locked everyone else out of the system and refused to hand over the passwords to anyone other than the mayor. He got four years in prison and a bill for $1.5m in cleanup costs. ®

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