By Jaikumar Vijayan
September 13, 2007
Officials at consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. are looking into
how a Fox News reporter acquired a confidential terrorist threat
assessment on Chicago over a public file-sharing network.
Larry Yellen, an investigative reporter with WFLD Fox News in Chicago,
on Tuesday reported that he recently used a peer-to-peer (P2P) program
called LimeWire to obtain the Booz Allen document. The firm authored the
document in 2002.
George Farrar, a spokesman for Booz Allen, today confirmed the incident
and said the document was commissioned by the Federal Transit
Administration (FTA) five years ago. It was one of 35 threat assessments
of the nation's bus and rail systems that Booz Allen was commissioned to
do by the agency.
"Essentially, yes, those were Booz Allen documents that were available
on the Internet via a peer-to-peer file-sharing system," Farrar said.
"What we don't know is from what system those documents made their way
to the Internet."
Farrar said that after Booz Allen completed the threat assessment, it
made the document available to numerous federal, state and
private-sector entities and first responders as required under its
contract with the FTA. It was then the responsibility of those entities
to protect the documents, Farrar said.
"We investigated internally and didn't find the document on our
computers," Farrar said. He also noted that employees at Booz Allen
cannot connect to file-sharing networks at work. "We are continuing to
investigate. We can't say definitely one way or the other," who the
source of the leaked document was. But he said it is possible that the
document was leaked from a computer belonging to one of the entities
that got the report.
"We don't know what controls were put in place after the document left
our hands. So far, we haven't been able to find evidence that it was
from our computers," he said.
The Booz Allen incident again highlights what some analysts say is a
growing problem: the easy availability of all sorts of government,
personal and confidential information on P2P networks.
The situation is the result of information being leaked onto these
networks by individuals who fail to take precautions for securing their
computers during P2P sessions. Popular P2P clients such as Kazaa,
LimeWire, BearShare, Morpheus and FastTrack are designed to let users
quickly download and share music and video files. Normally, such clients
allow users to download files to -- and share items from -- a particular
folder on their system with other users on the network. But if the
access these P2P clients have on a system is not controlled, it is easy
to expose and share personal data with all other users on a file-sharing
U.S. authorities recently arrested a Seattle man on charges that he
deliberately mined and harvested P2P networks for such data which he
then used to commit ID theft -- the first time that anyone in the U.S.
has been arrested on charges of committing ID theft over P2P networks.
In July, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform heard
testimony from several witnesses about how everything from classified
military documents to corporate data can be found on P2P networks. The
leaked documents on P2P networks cited as examples at the hearing
included the Pentagon's entire secret backbone network infrastructure
diagram; contractor data on radio frequency manipulation to defeat
improvised explosive devices in Iraq; and physical terrorism threat
assessments for three major U.S cities.
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