GAO: Energy must better guard travelers' data

GAO: Energy must better guard travelers' data

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

Energy Department lab contractors traveling abroad have fallen prey to espionage attempts, including efforts to access data on the travelers' portable computers, the General Accounting Office reported last month.

GAO estimated that since 1995 there have been 75 documented cases of attempted espionage during 1,500 trips to countries that Energy deems 'sensitive,' meaning it does not want those countries to gain access to any of department nuclear data. There are 25 countries on the list.

The number of incidents is inexact because the four Energy labs surveyed for the report, Department of Energy: National Security Controls Over Contractors Traveling to Foreign Countries Need Strengthening, track espionage attempts differently.

GAO urged Energy to create a better method of briefing its contract employees before trips and debriefing them afterward to get a better idea of the scope of the problem.

GAO studied travel from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, the Los Alamos and Sandia labs in New Mexico, and the Oak Ridge lab in Tennessee.

Moving on

Although DOE travelers experienced a variety of espionage attempts'including surveillance, searches and offers of sexual favors in exchange for information'GAO reported that some attempts involved tampering with contractors' computers:

•'A traveler found four entries for guest access on his notebook computer. The computer had been secured with a padlock but left in his room unattended. It was not clear whether someone had accessed files. A check of the security software revealed another guest entry that coincided with a previous trip the traveler had taken to the same country.

•'After returning from an overnight outing, a traveler noticed that the computer he had left in his room had been tampered with. Someone had tried to pry open the back of the computer, cracking the plastic casing. Four keys on the keyboard were broken.

•'A traveler awoke in the night to the sound of beeping. Someone had accessed his computer but did not turn off the notebook, causing it to beep when the battery began to run down. No sensitive or classified information was stored on the system.

•'A traveler returning to his hotel room after an overnight trip found the tamper-indicating seal on his computer broken. The system was still locked, indicating that whoever tried to access it was unsuccessful. A fellow traveler had a similar notebook experience.

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