Hazel Blears - stolen laptop, no encryption, breach of Restricted and Confidential rules - which email accounts were used ?

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When trying to make sense of the weasel words which ooze from the NuLabour kremlin, when they try to spin a line, to try limit the damage of news of their latest Data Security cockup, you have to look for what is deliberately not said, as well as what was actually uttered.

The theft of a laptop computer from the constituency office of the chirpy, bit still odious, NuLabour Minister for the Department of Communities and Local Government (which she appears to be turning into the Department for Snooping on Communities and Political Opponents - see Hazel Blears and Sergeant Flanderka - "tension monitoring" i.e. snooping on local communities)
contributes to the general air of incompetence and their personal flouting of rules and regulations imposed on junior subordinates and on the general public.

"Restricted" and "Confidential" documents, which might be of interest to Muslim and other extremists or terrorists, and other documents of interest to commercial property or stock market speculators, together with, presumably, personal data regarding her constituents, appear to have been on the stolen laptop computer, which is unprotected by strong encryption.

There are also Questions to Be Asked about the apparent abuse of Government email systems.

Yesterday The Times website reported

Hazel Blears could face disciplinary action after she ordered sensitive Cabinet documents on religious extremism to be forwarded to a laptop in her constituency, which was subsequently stolen.

Downing Street said that an "urgent" investigation was under way after the documents relating to security and planning were e-mailed from secure government machines to the computer in Ms Blears' Salford constituency office in Salford's Working Class Movement Library.

Last week a senior Cabinet Office official was suspended for leaving top secret documents on a train. The Prime Minister was informed of the loss, and ordered Cabinet yesterday to ensure that procedures on sensitive information were enforced.

The Conservatives said Ms Blears, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, had committed an offence under Section 8 of the Official Secrets Act, which makes it an offence if they "fail to take such care to prevent the unauthorised disclosure of the document or article as a person in his position may reasonably be expected to take". This could pave the way for a police investigation into her conduct.


The machine contained a combination of constituency and government information which should not have been held on it.

The stolen computer is understood to have contained Cabinet papers about extremism and a document outlining the views of various members of the Cabinet on the new planning commission. The existence of a document outlining divisions on the issue of planning ahead of next week's crucial vote will alarm ministers.

The documents did not contain any information that could compromise national security.

A Government spokesman stressed that no personal details were among the departmental information.

"There was a break-in at the constituency office of Hazel Blears on the afternoon of Saturday, June 14. Hazel was not there at the time," a spokesman said.

"The thief broke in through a window, triggering the building's security alarm. A PC (personal computer) was stolen. Nothing else was taken.

"We understand the building's security staff arrived within minutes. The PC was primarily used for Hazel's constituency business and contained some details of her constituency work.

"The PC also contained some material from the department. None of the departmental material included sensitive personal data about the public or would be of use to criminals. The PC did not contain any secret or top secret information and the contents of the PC are protected and clearly this is now subject to a routine police investigation."

Manchester Police are investigating the theft from the office in Salford's Working Class Movement Library on Saturday. Nothing else was taken.

Note the utter disregard for the privacy and security of the "constituency" data or documents,

Because the spin doctor was stressing that there were "no personal details" in the stolen Government documents, we assume that there were personal details involving members of the public and / or constituency staff on this stolen laptop computer.

The Guardian has slightly more details of what these documents might be:

The first is a "narrative" of what the department is doing to tackle violent extremism, including funding for youth groups and moves to tackle extremism in mosques. The second is an assessment of the housing market, drawn up in March, and the third a paper detailing internal cabinet discussions on the planning bill.

Potentially these documents would be useful to terrorists and to property and stock market speculators.

The Daily Mail has more damaging details:


And last night there were fears that the documents - several marked 'restricted' and one marked 'confidential' - set out sensitive details of the Government's strategy for dealing with Muslim extremism, as well as defence and security issues.


Miss Blears, responsible for the so-called Prevent drive of the Government's counter-terrorism strategy, is believed to have had sensitive documents emailed from her ministerial office to her personal computer, kept in her constituency office in Salford.


Senior civil servants and ministers can use secure Government laptops that allow them to access sensitive documents remotely.

But it is understood Miss Blears's personal computer would not be equipped with security-approved technology.


Peter Housden, permanent secretary for the Department of Communities and Local Government, said: 'It is clear that papers have been sent to Hazel Blears in a way that is not fully consistent with the departmental guidance.

'Thankfully no damage has been done since the documents sent to her were not classified as secret or top secret. And in any event the computer was password protected.'

What appalling smugness, complacency and ignorance being displayed by the "Sir Humphrey" at the Department of Communities - a "password protected" computer offers some security, but not if the whole machine has been physically stolen and is no longer under your direct control.

The fact that the magic word "encryption" is not being used, means that there is none/

When will "Sir Humphreys" and politicians realise that using strong encryption could be a powerful insurance policy to protect their own precious careers ?

The main Protectively marked document classifications of Restricted, Confidential, Secret and Top Secret are fairly arbitrary, and it is simply not true to claim that "no damage has been done" to personal or national security through the loss of Restricted or Confidential documents.

Which email system was used to send these documents to the constituency laptop computer in Salford ?

The Government Secure Intranet (GSi) e.g. an email from hazel.blears@communities.gsi.gov.uk is only for Restricted or Unclassified information, between GSi connected users.

You are not allowed to send even Restricted documents out via the Internet unless you are using UK Government Approved Cryptography end to end.

You are not allowed to send documents marked Confidential using the GSi, even to other GSi connected user, without using extra cryptography . There is a separate, more secure system which is meant to be used for this called x-GSI e.g. from hazel.blears@communities.x-gsi.gov.uk

Which email system was used to receive these Official Secrets Act protected, Protectively Marked documents ? Was it a Labour party email address ?

If not, have any of Hazel Blears constituency office staff been granted access to the GSi or x-GSi systems ?

Was the Parliamentary email system used instead ? e.g. to hazelb@parliament.uk ?

Are any of these accounts and passwords being shared between Hazel Blears and her office staff ?

Was this a "one off" security breach, or have there been other such breaches of secure email security rules and protocols by Hazel Blears or her staff ?

Are any other arrogant Labour Cabinet Ministers also flouting those rules as well ?


Pretty much echoes my own thinking - especially on the email bit - via which accounts/servers, hosted where, and by whom? But as they say, nothing "secret" or "top secret" so nothing to worry about then, eh?
And she is unlikely to be the only one to have done this.

I'm wondering if the 'housing report' mentioned is in fact a copy of the much-photographed one provided by Ms Flint not all that long ago...

And now the conspiracy bit. An alarmed building, in broad daylight, and the only thing taken was the laptop? Either it was in full view near the window, or it was the specific known-location target of the break-in. If security staff arrived "within minutes" and didn't catch anyone, it would suggest that the item was easily found, quickly removed, and the getaway ready. Too much of a stretch?

I note with interest that the building this laptop was stolen from is a 5 minute walk from The Crescent police station in Salford. Not that the theft of a laptop from an office in Salford would be unusual.

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The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

Amnesty International's irrepressible.info campaign

BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

Icelanders are NOT terrorists ! - despite Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling's use of anti-terrorism legislation to seize the assets of Icelandic banks.

No CCTV - The Campaign Against CCTV


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