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Now On Video: GCHQ Destroying Laptop Full of Snowden Disclosures 237

Posted by timothy
from the ask-not-what-your-country-can-destroy-for-you dept.
An anonymous reader writes "On Saturday 20 July 2013, in the basement of the Guardian's office in Kings Cross, London, watched by two GCHQ technicians, Guardian editors destroyed hard drives and memory cards on which encrypted files leaked by Edward Snowden had been stored. This is the first time footage of the event has been released."
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Now On Video: GCHQ Destroying Laptop Full of Snowden Disclosures

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  • by Eyeball97 (816684) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @03:38AM (#46126815)

    Oh, wait... I think it was books they were burning in the movie... Or people... Maybe both...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by erikkemperman (252014)

      Godwin in 6 minutes, well done.

      Look, I agree that this is a pretty bad transgression on the part of British government, but let's keep a bit of perspective.

      If anything it is slightly comical that these people think they can destroy digital information with drills and grinders and so on. Obviously they really don't, GHCQ do not have a reputation of being digitards.

      So this is a message, the presence of cameras confirms it. On the one hand to the assorted press, watch your step. On the other hand to their US c

      • by Eyeball97 (816684) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @04:15AM (#46126921)

        Actually I was alluding to common practices going back many centuries, so well done on leaping to conclusions.

      • by Tom (822) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @04:33AM (#46126977) Homepage Journal

        If anything it is slightly comical that these people think they can destroy digital information with drills and grinders and so on. Obviously they really don't, GHCQ do not have a reputation of being digitards.

        Ignoring the fact that copies exist (and everyone involved knew that), physical destruction is in fact the recommended way to destroy the data on a hard drive, SSD drive, flash memory, etc. etc.

        You can overwrite the drive 50 times and you can not be certain that the data is unrecoverable. If you put a grinder to the drive surface, you can be very certain of that.

        There's a reason the military shreds harddrives when it disposes of them.

        • by tftp (111690)

          Ignoring the fact that copies exist (and everyone involved knew that), physical destruction is in fact the recommended way to destroy the data on a hard drive, SSD drive, flash memory, etc. etc.

          To rephrase: It's relatively easy to ensure that this HDD does not store any data. However it is nearly impossible to ensure that this data is not stored on any HDD.

        • by thegarbz (1787294) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @06:07AM (#46127181)

          You can overwrite the drive 50 times and you can not be certain that the data is unrecoverable.

          That hasn't been true for about 20 years now. Overwrite your data once and it's gone. Even if you don't overwrite it randomly no data recovery group have been shown to be capable of recovering overwritten data even in the face of great monetary incentive.

          There's a reason the military shreds harddrives when it disposes of them.

          Yes but it has nothing to do with data possibly being recoverable. It's entirely to do with removing all doubt if a procedure has been applied. If you look at a drive you have no way of knowing if the data has been wiped or if there's anything recoverable on it. If you look at small shards of what's left of a drive then there's no doubt. It doesn't mean that other methods aren't equally secure, just harder to administrate.

          • by hankwang (413283)

            Overwrite your data once and it's gone. Even if you don't overwrite it randomly no data recovery group have been shown to be capable of recovering overwritten data

            That's if you want the data to be overwritten and you're the owner of the drive. If you want to delete data on someone else's drive, you would have to ensure that the drive does not have some custom firmware installed that messes with the overwriting process...

          • ... no data recovery group have been shown to be capable of recovering overwritten data even in the face of great monetary incentive.

            How many of those "data recovery groups" have had the resources of a modern industrialized nation state behind them? The scope of what is possible can vary enormously depending on your resources.

          • by mysidia (191772)

            If you look at small shards of what's left of a drive then there's no doubt.

            Unless the data's never been overwritten, and then someone pieces a few of those shards back together, for inspection under an electron microscope.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2014 @06:34AM (#46127251)

          You can overwrite the drive 50 times and you can not be certain that the data is unrecoverable.

          Bullshit. If your drive works fine, even after single (or two, if you are paranoiac) overwrite with random data no-fucking-body in the whole universe will recover anything.

          There's a reason the military shreds harddrives when it disposes of them.

          But for completely different reasons what you think, its because:
          - your drive might be faulty so the overwrite is actually not performed
          - could be faster (overwrite of big disk can take hours)
          - the destruction can be performed by IT-ignorant, non-technical guy
          - the destruction process can be easily CONTROLLED by another non-technical persons.

          This last one is actually main reason: in such process there are usually more people involved which "watch each other".
          However control of soft (data-only) destruction is very difficult: even if all involved people would be highly technically capable (including your commanding officer), It is difficult to assure that the other guy does not use (intentionally or unintentionally) wrong, hacked or faulty software, does not make copy during overwrite, makes proper control read after the process etc ...

          • Mod up
          • by petermgreen (876956) <plugwashNO@SPAMp10link.net> on Saturday February 01, 2014 @09:22AM (#46127715) Homepage

            But for completely different reasons what you think, its because:
            - your drive might be faulty so the overwrite is actually not performed

            A related one:

            The drive may remap some sectors because they are failing, it may be very difficult to ensure that all the physical sectors are overwritten and not just all the logical sectors.

            • by mysidia (191772)

              The drive may remap some sectors because they are failing, it may be very difficult to ensure that all the physical sectors are overwritten and not just all the logical sectors.

              This is where the SECURE ERAS EUNIT ATA command comes in.

              There are only a small number of such replacement 512 byte sectors available. Most drives have not done remapping a significant number of sectors.

              The probability that critically sensitive data just so happens to reside in a remapped sector, is scant at best.

          • by Tom (822)

            Bullshit. If your drive works fine, even after single (or two, if you are paranoiac) overwrite with random data no-fucking-body in the whole universe will recover anything.

            Partially true, but not entirely.

            True, in modern drives we operate very close to the physical limites and overwriting is a lot more destructive than it used to be.

            However, there are also so many intermediate layers and internal logic (like the relocation of faulty sectors another commenter pointed out) that you'd have to go very low-level to come even close to any assurance that everything actually has been physically overwritten.

            Physical destruction is still the only way to be absolutely certain. All your

        • by Sique (173459) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:54AM (#46127461) Homepage

          You can overwrite the drive 50 times and you can not be certain that the data is unrecoverable.

          Actually, this is an old myth, which had some truth to it when hard disk weren't operating at the known physical limits. Then you could actually read some erased information by using a more sensitive magnetic head, which was able to tell the difference between a former one overwritten by zero and a former zero overwritten by zero. But this is no longer so. Any reserves that might have been in the magnetic surface of disk are now used to increase information density. The most sensitive reading heads available are those already built into the hard disks. Overwrite a section of the disk with zeros (or ones, whatever you like), and you can be sure that the information formerly there is safely overwritten.

        • Why did they have to destroy all the microchips on the motherboard too? It seems like a lot of work for nothing. Plus, who knows how poisonous ground up microchips are.
        • by maxwell demon (590494) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:25AM (#46127545) Journal

          You can overwrite the drive 50 times and you can not be certain that the data is unrecoverable.

          If you can recover the data overwritten 50 times, then you also can recover the data overwritten 49 times (that is, the first set of data you've overwritten the original data with), the data overwritten 48 times (that is, the second set of data you've overwritten it with), the data overwritten 47 times, the data overwritten 46 times ... and you'd have to be able to distinguish between them. which means that on a 500 gigabyte hard disk, you'd be able to recover 25 terabytes of data. I strongly doubt that this is possible.

          • by Tom (822)

            You misunderstood "it is not 100% guaranteed to be gone" for "it is 100% guaranteed to be recoverable".

            Sure, with each pass you will make some of the data gone for good. But your certainty is a limes function. So no, after x passes you won't be able to recover x * capacity in bytes. But you might be able to recover some of the original data.

        • by mysidia (191772)

          Ignoring the fact that copies exist (and everyone involved knew that), physical destruction is in fact the recommended way to destroy the data on a hard drive, SSD drive, flash memory, etc. etc.

          Grinding the motherboard and CPU, are not ways of destroying data. They're ways of causing a loss of capital, in terms of dollars used to purchase the equipment.

          I don't think the authorities' aim so much is to destroy the data, BUT to try to create a financial loss for Snowden and whoever's helping him, in term

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        It was actually just Cameron being his usual thick-as-shit self. He requested that the drives be destroyed personally, apparently not realizing or understanding how little effect it would have. In fact it most likely had the opposite effect, ensuring that more material and this kind of negative publicity was put out. He really is a dumb fuck sometimes.

      • Which is a dick move, to be sure, but not quite the holocaust yet.

        Saying "not quite the holocaust yet" is a bit of an understatement. And although you would never know it on Slashdot, there is a much more divided opinion in at least some societies about who was actually the "dick" at the heart of it.

      • by mysidia (191772)

        So this is a message, the presence of cameras confirms it.

        This is a firm message that says: "Stop publishing."

        "Another word about Snowden, AND the next supervised immediate destruction order will target all your reporters' computers, All your backoffice servers, All the servers in your web farm, and all your company's backup disks."

      • by _Ludwig (86077)

        I don’t think Godwin applies to Farenheit 451.

  • I'm sure those are locked away safely.

    • by bob_super (3391281) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @03:51AM (#46126847)

      Nope, through computum entanglement, destroying the south bridge of the PC which had held the hard drive also destroyed all the copies.
      Quantum mechanics is a bit too complex for us peons, just trust the govt on this one.

    • by Immerman (2627577) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @03:58AM (#46126867)

      In fact they claim it was made completely clear to the head honcho ordering the destruction that other copies did in fact exist and that this display would not change anything. It was purely a PR/attempted intimidation stunt.

    • What about good old paper copies? I hope that one of the curators actually prints all the documents out, and squirrels them away in the closed archive stacks of an obscure library somewhere. The problem with storing all the documents on hard drives makes them easier to destroy . . . one hard drive in the shredder, and you're done. Having them as paper copies might make it more difficult for the spooks to trace and destroy.

      Of course, the curators will probably have to go hardcore with this. Multiple fol

  • Saving face? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by txoof (553270) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @03:45AM (#46126837) Homepage
    What the hell was that? They threatened to shut down the Guardian if the media wasn't handed over; it appears though that they didn't have the balls to go through with the threat. Instead they came up with this bizarre compromise that involved 'destroying' the data. Why do this? Was it just a way for the government to save face and not have to back down from some crazy ass redline that threw out there? They must know that the files were immediately duplicated and spread around the world. That was by far one of the strangest things I've ever seen a newspaper do.
    • by _Shad0w_ (127912)

      I suspect The Guardian was mostly thinking "Sure, we'll play along with your little pantomime. It's not like it's actually going to make any difference." I suspect the technicians from GCHQ were thinking the same as well. Possibly with a side thought of "Well, it gets us out of Cheltenham for a day at least".

      • by DaHat (247651)

        More broadly, the UK lacks the same (or comparable) legal protections of the press & free speech that the US has via our First Amendment.

        • Re:Saving face? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Tom (822) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @04:30AM (#46126969) Homepage Journal

          I'm so tired of hearing that.

          The laws are different over here in Europe, yes. But bland statements like the above just make me cringe. Some rights are stronger in the US, some are stronger in Europe, and it even differs by country.

          And then there's the law on the one hand and enforcement on the other. The NSA didn't exactly get much opposition from Google, Microsoft and everyone else they've tapped into, did they? That's not new or "post 9/11", either. If you read up on the history of the NSA, you'll find that in the early days they went to the telegraph companies and without a court order they got copies of every telegraph message leaving or entering the USA.

          • Re:Saving face? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Saturday February 01, 2014 @11:07AM (#46128121) Homepage Journal

            The NSA didn't exactly get much opposition from Google, Microsoft and everyone else they've tapped into, did they?

            I think the NSA got considerable opposition from Google, and knew from the beginning that it would, which is why Google was (per David Drummond) never even asked to provide broad access to user data. The revelation that the NSA might be tapping connections between data centers caused a crash project to make sure all of that traffic was encrypted, for example. In general, this stuff has really pissed Googlers off and Google engineers are working to plug every potential leak they can find.

            (Disclaimer: I work for Google, but don't speak for Google.)

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Given its history, I think of the US Constitution as more a statement of good intent than any sort of iron clad protection or inalienable rights.

          I mean, pretty well EVERY time the US has been stressed (by war, by politics, by circumstances) the Constitution and its amendments have been set aside, only for the Supreme Court or whatever to revisit the situation 10 or 20 years down the track (long after the damage has been done) to reinstate said rights and privileges ... after which everybody apologizes to th

  • Moronic. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I'm dumbfounded.

    Why on earth would GCHQ and/or the government want to show us so clearly that they are complete morons?

    I might assume they are not and that there was some deep purpose to this display of idiocy but I don't see it.

  • For many many reasons but I post for one you'd be surprised at.
    http://hardware.slashdot.org/c... [slashdot.org]

    People continue to do this stupid shit to perfectly good hardware, sure it's symbolic in this case to prove a point, none the less any of us here with a fucking grain of common sense realise it's a load of complete shit.

    That data could've been copied 10,000 times over from that machine by now (obviously)

    • by _Shad0w_ (127912)

      A point the editor even made to the Select Committee. In fact he straight out told them it had been copied elsewhere.

  • by sixshot (878181) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @04:40AM (#46127001) Homepage

    I viewed the video and I read the related article... and it says here:

    A small team of trusted senior reporters examined Snowden's files in a secure fourth-floor room in the Guardian's King's Cross office. The material was kept on four laptops. None had ever been connected to the internet or any other network. There were numerous other security measures, including round-the-clock guards, multiple passwords, and a ban on electronics.

    Okay, 4 laptops are fine. So why does the video show a desktop keyboard? And why is there a completely destroyed ATX desktop motherboard shown there?

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      The 'computer' was mentioned at 0.49 "drill out the hard disks" at 1.13 at 1.49 "computers"... I would guess some form of a working 'copy' on a desktop computer to be used with by staff in the room. From that internal redacted material could be made ready for publication vs the original material on laptops.
    • by donaldm (919619)

      Okay, 4 laptops are fine. So why does the video show a desktop keyboard? And why is there a completely destroyed ATX desktop motherboard shown there?

      OK That will teach me to read the article.

      You are dead right, why a keyboard and possibly a PS/2 keyboard (do modern laptops support this connector any-more? Some other things that don't make sense is the tower PC power supply and the huge fans (I would love to see how they got them in a laptop). Also while we are at it how did they get a standard PC motherboard in a laptop.

      As for grinding the boards well words fail me. I suppose that is a bit like destroying RAM especially when we all know those sneaky

  • by rts008 (812749) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @05:09AM (#46127049) Journal

    Yes, let us NOW close the barn doors after the cats have escaped.....that will stop the cats from escaping!

    From my view(USA), the U.K. seems to be following in our footsteps with afterburners engaged.

    I remember when everyone was claiming computers would make life easier. LOL! Paperless offices FTW!
    (don't misunderstand; I like computers and networks, but from the beginning, I have always questioned the implementation of them as it occurred...one of the reasons why I don't own a cell phone, and studied networking so I could protect some of my privacy, just as I studied driving a vehicle before driving)

    The cat is out of the bag/barn door, the best thing for the gov't.s involved is to admit it and make acceptable changes, but don't hold your breath waiting.

    The question now is:
    Do we fight this crap, or grease up our bungholes and take like a good consumer?(we are no longer citizens or customers...just livestock consuming the crap corp.'s and their bitches(gov't) shovel out.

    If you use the term 'consumer' for anything outside of eating and drinking, or physically using something to depletion, then you are part of the problem by accepting this crap.

    Consume various media?
    I have NEVER eaten or drank an music or video file, I've watched/listened to them, and THEY ARE STILL THERE! So I could not have consumed them.

    This may seem like an offtopic rant, but the brainwash mentality is what makes this crap work.

    We have gotten into a mindset from this tactic that makes this shite easier to swallow, because we get used to swallowing shite. We have forgotten how to find out for ourselves, we WANT the 10 second soundbite because we are too busy swallowing the shite, to fit in with our shite swallowing peers.

    I personally am too old, broken down, and poor to start the needed coup, but will gladly join in if it ever happens.

    Here in the USA 20 years ago, if what happened under Bush jr.'s reign happened then, I would have started(or at least attempted) another revolution...strictly out of patriotic feelings for the oath I took to defend the Constitution of the USA, and Dubya and company would have been first against the wall to be shot as a traitor to the Constitution I pledged to uphold against enemies foreign and domestic.

    Apparently, my peers are happy to have the following generations buggered, and now it's showing up.

    In retrospect, I would include Obama and co. for not doing away with all of Bush/Cheney's constitutional violations.

    As it stands, I will do everything within my power and ability to train and educate the younger generations to combat this crap.

    Note to self: Quit posting when drinking!
      I meant everything above, but focus and eloquence decline severely when drinking!

    Apologies if I sound like some butthurt old geezer, but I am one, due to the 'War on Drugs', 'War on terrorism', War on this', War on that', alcohol is my only outlet short of ending up on the evening news as some nutjob taken out by the local SWAT Team. :-)

    OK, now all of you all, get off my lawn!
    *chugs bottle of Geritol*

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Well the gov internet searches seem to be for locations, names and further digital contacts as 1 - 2 - 3 hops to and from the press for example.
      The vast illegal domestic surveillance system is built like an elint overflight of the Soviet Union collecting everything it can.
      Its their network, every keystroke you make is kept, sorted, indexed, filed, read by a real person if your on a list...
      Build on that - read up all you can on the side of politics you find interesting and write long detailed emails to m
  • by sce7mjm (558058) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @05:16AM (#46127065)

    I think the Guardian guy is being deliberately vague, since they now have evidence that they destroyed all of their copies.

    They are now only going to report on the information that others are leaking.

    It is PR for GCHQ and the Government, i.e. don't hold documents you know you shouldn't cos we'll smash your shit up.

    It is part of the legal defence of the Guardian, "We aren't distributing this information, but are now free to report the information that others have released to the public"

    By the way IANAL, it just seems like common sense to me.

  • A "laugh track".

    Just sayin'...

    Strat

  • GCHQ Destroying Laptop Full of Snowden Disclosures

    As the summary actually makes clear, one of the interesting about this incident is that the Guardian editors opted to destroy the laptop themselves, instead of letting GCHQ do it.

  • by Craig Ringer (302899) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:48AM (#46127599) Homepage Journal

    It's probably been so long since they released it because GCHQ had to vet the video to make sure you couldn't reconstruct the document from the fragments visible during the video.

    They seem to be about that level of tech-literate.

    • by _Shad0w_ (127912)

      You appear to be confusing GCHQ with the Home Office. I very much doubt the instructions for this little bit of theatre came out of GCHQ; it pretty obviously political theatre.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      It's probably been so long since they released it because GCHQ had to vet the video to make sure you couldn't reconstruct the document from the fragments visible during the video.

      Actually... we came up with a device that can mess with entropy so much; that the dust particles are expected to spontaneously come back together and reassemble themselves into chips and disk drives, with no damage whatsoever, and then the data wlill be retrievalbe again.

  • Even if it was true that one can economically retrieve data after it has been erased / overwritten a few times, the buzz-sawing of individual chips in this video fans the paranoia of people over hard drives. You can disassemble the hard drive, or hit it once with a ball peen hammer. Drilling multiple holes through ceramic chips borders on the Pythonesque. Perhaps they were being tongue-in-cheek during the application of physical overkill, but it fans the billion dollar planned obsolescence industry. Mo

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