The government sent the security industry into gales of laughter today when it insisted that sensitive documents on Hazel Blears’ missing PC are quite safe, as the machine is “password protected”.
The gov’s soothing words came amid speculation on what formal action, if any, communities and local government secretary Blears will face, as her department admitted the missing machine included files which should never have been there in the first place.
Meanwhile, it emerged that contrary to initial reports, the missing PC wasn’t a laptop but a desktop. So not only was sensitive information wrongly downloaded, it was downloaded to a machine that by definition would have spent its days in Salford, rather than being kept close to the minister’s side.
And even though the machine was in an alarmed room, and according to government spokespeople security staff were there in minutes, the light fingered constituent was still able to slip out of the building with an armful of PC without being collared.
According to The Evening Standard, government ministers can download sensitive materials to special, secured laptops. However, the paper reported, the machine in question was not one of these.
As of yesterday afternoon anyway, Number Ten was fighting shy of heaping blame on Blears, with the prime minister’s spokesman refusing to comment on what was on the PC and whether any of the files on it should never have made their way out of Whitehall.
Number Ten was still examining the matter, he said, and couldn’t comment as to whether there had been any breach of procedures. The spokesman also refused to speculate on what action might be taken against Hazel Blears.
However, by yesterday evening, Blears’ own civil servants had admitted that there was more on the PC than there should have been.
Communities and Local Government Permanent Secretary Peter Housden said, in a statement: "It is clear that papers have been sent to Hazel Blears in a way that is not fully consistent with the departmental guidance."
However, Housden insisted “no damage” had been done and added: "The computer was password-protected.”
It is that last statement which will have security professionals in tears since cracking a password, as opposed to cracking an encrypted PC, is considered a trivial task.
Gordon Brown’s spokesman said yesterday that the PM had told the cabinet yesterday morning to remind staff of “the importance of enforcing procedures on the treatment of sensitive information”. We’re hoping that is a diplomatic way of saying Brown tore strips off the captains of a fleet of increasingly leaky ships.
In the meantime, the government might do worse than despatch a crack MI5 team down to Waterloo Station to scour the trains post rush hour, as this seems to be the main clearing house for sensitive government information these days. ®