Were alleged Russian spies undone by technology problems?

Password security needed improvement, too

What's Russian for "geek?" The recently busted alleged Russian spy ring apparently was in serious need of tech support, according to published reports.

Their problems included misconfigured wireless networks, users writing passwords on slips of paper and laptop help desk issues, wrote reporter Tim Greene in Network World.

"One of the most glaring errors made by one of the spy defendants was leaving an imposing 27-character password written on a piece of paper that law enforcement officers found while searching a suspect's home," Greene reported. "They used the password to crack open a treasure trove of more than 100 text files containing covert messages used to further the investigation."

The password gave investigators access to the alleged spies' steganography program, a sophisticated technology used to hide messages in digital files and retrieve them over the Web. Using steganography, for example, a spy could embed classified information in the digital code of a .jpg and post it on a blog. Any changes to the image that the hidden code caused would be nearly unnoticeable, and someone with the right decoder could download the picture and extract it.

The suspected spies also apparently had recurring problems with laptops that froze during file transfer, and wireless networks they could never get configured correctly, Greene reported.

The steganography software the spies used was apparently outdated, and that, even aside from the written-down password, might have led to their exposure, according to Sally Adee, writing in DiscoveryNews.

The alleged spies used older software that leaves detectable traces, Adee wrote. "Instead of leaving behind an artifact of your wrong-doing for the Justice Department to download, new stego programs use ephemeral channels that disappear when the communication has been completed," she reported. "It's called network steganography. You can do it in real time, you can transmit huge amounts of data, and you can do it without leaving behind any artifacts to implicate you."

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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Reader Comments

Wed, Jul 14, 2010 Big Daddy Chicago

Will, We voted out the guys that undermined the constitution and embarrassed us to the world. Regards, BD

Wed, Jul 7, 2010 UMustBKidN Washington, DC

C'mon Will...go back and soak your "tea bag" ok? If Obama is a communist...you MUST be Sara P.'s biggest contributor (or conspiracy theorist!). It's people like you that are the MOST DANGEROUS VARIETY. "Tuomoks" the movis is called "Burn After Reading" starring George Clooney...see it! IT'S HILARIOUS!!!

Tue, Jul 6, 2010 Will Chantilly, Virginia

BTW, tuomoks, the apprehended spies weren't "junion spies" or amateurs; they were deep cover spies sent here by Russian Intelligence to infiltrate centers of influence in our society (education, courts, media, government) and influence public thinking and policy. The idea that the Russian spies were beginners is itself misinformation. Don't be hoodwinked by slanted reports that claim otherwise.

Tue, Jul 6, 2010 Will Chantilly, Virgina

It's not the communists we caught that worry me. It's the ones we don't know about and aren't looking for that worry me. And it's the one's in the White House, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Senate who are currently running our Government, undermining our Constitution, and systematically destroying our way of life, in broad daylight, who worry me most. They latter are the most dangerous variety.

Tue, Jul 6, 2010 tuomoks SMA

Not really, it wasn't in any way "professional spy" ring, I don't know what or what for it was but everything what I have seen / heard was amateurish? The IT side is so 90's or maybe 80's - a joke! Honestly - it would be interesting to know what was the purpose in the whole "spy ring" - make a movie?

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