Data Breach And Espionage Fears Overblown: Petrobras Recovers Stolen Disks and Laptops Lacking Encryption.

A couple of weeks back I picked up on an article that had the Brazilian government mobilizing its intelligence and police forces to recover stolen laptops and hard drives.  The devices stored data on recently discovered oil and gas fields found off the coast of Brazil.  The loss of data led to much speculation on who could have done it and why, including whether it was a case of industrial espionage.


I pointed out at the time that I couldn’t see how spies would make use of any stolen data: oil fields hundreds of feet beneath the sea surface are not something you can steal.  (On further thought, perhaps the data will be useful if the rights to pump parts of the field are auctioned off or something.  I mean, who wants the risk of pumping the wrong part of the field, eh?)  I also pointed out that all the furor would be moot if the laptops and hard drives in question had been encrypted using advanced encryption like AlertBoot.


Well, it turns out that the devices were stolen by four security guards working in Macae, Rio de Janeiro (the state, not the city).  The guards had routinely stolen stuff from trucks, and this time they messed with the wrong truck.  Once they realized the ramifications of their actions, no doubt alerted by media coverage of the lost devices, they attempted to get rid of the stolen goods.  Quite successfully, it seems.  But they got caught in the process.


Ah, yes.  The police in Brazil.  I remember the strict warning I had gotten from Cariocas (that’s Rio people, just like New Yorkers are NY people) when I used to live in Brazil, over ten years ago.  They looked me straight in the eye and told me that under no circumstances should I ever stop at night if the police flagged down my car.  In fact, if anything, I should speed up, as they would pursue me if they had a police car, and not just because it was their duty.  Run!  Run away!


Me: What happens if you get caught?

Answer: The point is not to get caught.  Speed up, moron.


But what happens if you do get caught?  If they catch up in their Golf zerinho?  Well, if they’re honest police, you can explain you thought they were dishonest police; they’d understand.  Chances are they would give you a ticket—which in all seriousness you’d have to fill out for them.  (Again, with the serious face.)  If they were not honest police…well, you’re screwed.  Which is why you must run.  Run away!


They weren’t kidding at all.  I thought I’d share that particular gem. I am not sure if the above is still valid advice. (On a personal note, I’ve never had a problem with Brazilian police.  But then, I have never been flagged down.)


Anyway, the question of who will police the police has been an issue from time immemorial for all societies.  You can chalk this up to another one of those data breach instances because things don’t go as they should: surprising developments, accidents, etc.  It’s because of such vagaries in life that you want to use encryption to secure your data.  Especially if spies may be after it.

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