Alleged Russian spies suffered from dreadful IT support

By now, you’ve probably heard about those 11 alleged Russian spies who were attempting to gather intelligence and penetrate “policy making circles” in the U.S. What mainstream media coverage hasn’t delved into, however, is the IT side of the spy operation—and how it contributed to the spy ring’s undoing.

As Network World reports, the tech support department of the Russian SVR (think KGB 2.0) didn’t exactly offer world-class service, taking months to resolve problems and leading agents to make serious blunders:

In another case, replacing a laptop took more than two months. A suspect bought an Asus Eee PC 1005HA-P netbook, flew with it to Rome, picked up a passport in another name, flew on to Moscow and returned with it — a process that took from January this year to March. Presumably Moscow headquarters configured the device.
When the courier spy delivered it to another suspect, he described what to do if the laptop had problems. “…if this doesn’t work we can meet again in six months,” one suspect was overheard saying to another, “they don’t understand what we go through over here.”

Network World says one alleged spy based in New York City became so frustrated with a wireless connection issue that asked an undercover FBI agent to fix it—after that agent admitted, “I am not the technical guy…I don’t know how to fix it” and suggested she fly to Moscow with the machine. Her response? “It would be more convenient if I gave you it.”

Oh, but it gets better. One of the spy suspects reportedly locked down sensitive data with an “imposing” 27-character password, but was careless enough to leave the password written on a piece of paper at his home. Using the password, the FBI was able to uncover “more than 100 text files containing covert messages used to further the investigation.” (Thanks to Gizmodo for the link.)

Comments closed
    • UberGerbil
    • 9 years ago

    The couple that was picked up in Virginia previously lived in Seattle…exactly one block (less than 500 feet) from me.

      • eitje
      • 9 years ago

      and you never noticed they were there? pinko!

    • Bensam123
    • 9 years ago

    Hahaha….

    • pogsnet
    • 9 years ago
    • crabjokeman
    • 9 years ago

    In Soviet Russia, you support tech!

      • Krogoth
      • 9 years ago

      About time for that old joke.

      • FireGryphon
      • 9 years ago

      Shouldn’t it be, “…tech supports you!”?

        • Duck
        • 9 years ago

        no.

    • FireGryphon
    • 9 years ago

    Every little detail counts. When we try and get by with ‘good enough’ in computer components, we sometimes suffer inconvenient hassles with our systems not working, but details can bring down a larger project as well.

    Someone asked me a couple days ago if, of three major things schools need to function (good teachers, good administrators, involved parents), one was absent, could the school still succeed? Of course, the answer to this is that most schools do with a lot less than merely an absence of parent involvement, but it’s no secret how good our schools are.

    • Farting Bob
    • 9 years ago

    Woo, i have the same laptop used by these Russians spies!

      • Fighterpilot
      • 9 years ago

      Yes,we know.
      You’ve been assigned a case number and a fairly ugly case officer should you need to meet.
      (S.M.E.R.S.H)

    • wira020
    • 9 years ago

    Sounds like scenes from Pink Panther or Naked Gun… are you sure this isnt just some viral campaign for a new sequel of those?…

    • lilbuddhaman
    • 9 years ago

    Meanwhile the real spies are still undercover, and these 2nd rate idiots are left to burn at the stake.

    • Meadows
    • 9 years ago

    Who in Russia /[

      • dmitriylm
      • 9 years ago

      I don’t know but considering that a great number of the best programmers in Silicon Valley are Russian, I’d say they know a thing or two.

      • yogibbear
      • 9 years ago

      Well all their accountants and brokers are in jail so yeah i guess they can’t afford good IT support.

    • paulWTAMU
    • 9 years ago

    Putin’s crying copiously at how far the once great Russian intelligence organs have fallen.

      • ybf
      • 9 years ago

      Obama brought down Russia’s intelligence apparatus.

      Bush brought down America’s.

      (Look up “Brewster-Jennings”.)

        • bdwilcox
        • 9 years ago

        You’re kidding me right? Brewster Jennings was folded years before when a State Dept hack outed the company to a bunch of Turks who were looking to hire them as consultants (We have FBI documents to that fact from at least 2002). The existence of the company wasn’t public until 2003 with the whole Plame kabuki dance but it was compromised in intelligence circles long before that. It didn’t help that Valerie Plame misused the company’s name by listing it as her employer on her W-2 in 1999 and when making a donation to Al Gore’s presidential campaign.

        And I hate to break it to you but this type of operation doesn’t happen in a year. We’re talking years of observe and report here. Years. Which meant the investigation started under Bush (or maybe even Clinton if the investigation was held back for myriad reasons, political or otherwise).

          • Anonymous Coward
          • 9 years ago

          I’m pleased to see that somehow liberals were involved. However I am disappointed that you did not assign outright blame to liberals.

            • bdwilcox
            • 9 years ago

            Fitting username.

            • Anonymous Coward
            • 9 years ago

            Hah, you sure got me!

    • kvndoom
    • 9 years ago

    I’d have gladly provided tech support for Anna. Wouldn’t have asked for any money either. 😀

      • bdwilcox
      • 9 years ago

      I second that. Did anyone notice how close this whole saga mirrored Nelson DeMille’s *[

      • ludi
      • 9 years ago

      Hate to break this to you, but even if you had the opportunity to perform tech support for her, she’s not going to brush against you alluringly and talk in a soft Russian accent the whole time while you’re trying to remove an extraordinarily frustrating rootkit which, as it turns out, was placed there on purpose.

      So, you might want to ask for the money.

        • kvndoom
        • 9 years ago

        You just killed me softly. Now I must cry for mommy. 🙁

    • ShadowTiger
    • 9 years ago

    Lets hope this slapstick bunch wasn’t a diversion…

    or else the Russians can steal all our precious secrets… like how we pass laws to give corporations ultimate power in our country and deny the people basic liberties… something the Russians could never come up with on their own.

    • johnrreagan
    • 9 years ago

    I write down my computer-generated passwords all the time. They are on a piece of paper next to my monitor. They protect me from remote access from some hacker in, er, Russia. If you have physical access to my machine, a 27-character password is as good as 0-character password. You can just grab the hard drives and go (OK, you need to undo the case thumb screws and pull the SATA cables)

    Now, if you are encrypting your data, then I wouldn’t write that down as even physical access isn’t a guarantee of data compromise.

      • jpostel
      • 9 years ago

      I get what your saying, but there is a big diff between wanting to keep your techreport forum pw secure and wanting to keep your super-ultra-secret spy data secret. In that game, you can’t assume that physical access is endgame.

        • matic
        • 9 years ago

        Why blame the spy for lousy data protection on stolen secret informations then? Those aren’t secret anymore and earlier someone somewhere had a much bigger issue with data protection… 🙂

    • bdwilcox
    • 9 years ago

    I bet the KGB outsourced support to India.

    Spy: “Hi, I’m trying to decrypt a a static filled, triple scrambled, microwave transmission between two soldiers talking in Mandarin Chinese. I believe they were using a simple poly-phonetically grouped twenty square digit key, transposed from booster verdonic form, with multiple nulls. This Drogen’s Decoder Wheel my handler left in a box of Lucky Charms isn’t working.”

    Indian Tech Support: “Please reboot.”

    • dpaus
    • 9 years ago

    I can believe the most outrageous rumours about Intel, AMD, Apple – but this stuff?!? You’re making it up… 🙂

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