back to article Is there anything to find on bin Laden's hard drive?

US officials are already referring to the trove of computer drives and disks seized from Osama bin Laden's compound as “the mother lode of intelligence.” Such gloating is probably premature. As reported by Politico and others, the US Navy SEAL team that killed bin Laden on Sunday in Pakistan snatched computers, thumb drives and …

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Black Helicopters

Title Required

Yep my money is on months/years down the track they crack it and find some weird fetish porn. Two girls one cup perhaps !

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Coat

More likely...

...two popes one grail? Sorry. No really: sorry!

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Stop

Ewwwww....

I need never be reminded of the horror of watching that the first time. Even worse, one man one jar.

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Anonymous Coward

Two Girls one Cup ???

Don't know Bin Laden's erotic tastes. But I think that one is just you.

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Extreme porn, Taliban style

Women with their faces exposed.

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*NEVER* underestimate

any group of people who measure thier computing power in acres.

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Boffin

You were saying?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complexity_class

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Anonymous Coward

Um.

Wouldn't they be farmers?

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Pint

They need a fleet of PS3s to crack this...

...just hook it up to the PSN. Oh wait...

<-- Beer icon because that's something else they won't discover in his compound.

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Joke

Hmm

Maybe the PS3 hacking gang has been found :)

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Coat

Whisky not beer?

when I mended a local's video recorder in riyadh a while ago I was unexpectedly given a half-bottle of scotch. I don't think the guy was a paid-up member of the made-up AQ, but he was definitely a pillar of the community and no doubt a supporter of the neighborhood Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Being a normal Saudi local he was a bit bipolar on most issues. Kim Philby's dad, Harry Saint John Bridger Sheik Abdullah Philby stated that "(Saudi/Nejd) Arabs are the only people I know of who combine ignorance with arrogance"

I also met a champagne salesman in riyadh, he said business was very good. The only beer available was tinnies of "Near" (zero alcohol flavored with cat's p!ss) but once the factory accidentally brewed real stuff.... I suspect UBL would have been a sweet-mint-tea persona

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FAIL

wow that's strange

Arabs are the only people I know of who combine ignorance with arrogance ....

You've obviously never spent much time around evangelical christians in that case.

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Pirate

A country of double standards

Ever been on a flight out of Saudi. Full of ladies with full guiness bottle robes drinking orange juice. The pilot announces we are now out of Saudi airspace and there is a rush for the toilets. Several minutes later the ladies return in the shortest miniskirts I have seen outside a porn movie, and proceed to get staggeringly drunk.

What is done officially and what is done privately are totally different.

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Re Whisky, not beer?

The British embassy sometime in the early eighties received a phone call from the Saudi authorities to inform them that "Their furniture was leaking." So I guess there was a certain amount of blind-eye turning going on for a while there.

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Anonymous Coward

Leaking Furniture

That was a quite a common report well before the 80s, a frequent one was that their grand piano was leaking as it was said that they regularly imported new ones as the heat made them go off tune...

I did once see a container being packed for export,(not in this country) with the boxes being labelled as Navy Documents relating to 'another country'. The contents had to avoid clinking and the 'documents' were square section with a screw top, they were not for 'our' embassy but for delivery to the same Kingdom.

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Anonymous Coward

'extracting' information

Maybe if they hadn't killed him, they could have 'extracted' some data from him.

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Badgers

Seriously?

You think he would have spilled the beans?

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Re extracting information

Well, according to some govoff Osama was unarmed. Maybe, extracting information was exactly what they tried to do when he died?

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Anonymous Coward

you sure they did?

We've only got their word they killed him. If I was head of an intelligence service in the mood to use 'enhanced interrogation techniques' then not having people asking questions about where he is or what's being done to him would be a useful first step.

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access

was it fitted with a finger print reader by any chance?

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Black Helicopters

conspiracy ahoy

burial at see, a likely story!

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@ AC Wednesday 4th May 2011 06:09 GMT

"Maybe if they hadn't killed him, they could have 'extracted' some data from him."

Perhaps that's what they're doing right now. I mean, It would make sense to keep him alive without anybody knowing, and milk him for all the info he's got. It wouldn't surprise me if the 'secret burial at sea' was just a cover up. This way, they could get all the info they want from him without any outside interference from AI or the UN or whoever. It also would prevent his buddies trying to free him through some massive kidnapping.

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All the good reasons to torture someone

1) You are a sadist.

2) You want this person to suffer.

3) You have prepared a confession for his farther to sign that you can sell to the CIA.

Getting accurate information from a torture victim only happens on TV.

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Paris Hilton

The buried him in the Vatican?

I would rather hoped for a honorable burial at sea.

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Black Helicopters

Well....

Even when they release photos, one can't be absolutely sure he's dead. But capturing him alive, torturing on sea and then killing and making photos would be rather hard to detect, unless of course someone finds some clues in the photos.

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Grenade

in the movies, perhaps

Not asking questions would be a useful step.

But, on the ground in Pakistan is a bit different. I think it is more like a bird in the hand versus two in the bush.

I do not doubt the report that he was given a chance to surrendar. Which he would naturally not take. Then, he gets popped a couple of times. MIssion accomplished. Now, let's get out of here with the body. And anything else that is not nailed down.

We can work on anything that is not plain paper.

The world may not be a safer place. But, it sure feels like it.

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Anonymous Coward

The Scene We Didn't See

Bin Laden: You expect me to talk?

Special Forces: No, Mr Bin Laden, we expect you to die.

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This post has been deleted by its author

This post has been deleted by a moderator

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Who is this 'we' I keep on hearing?

Trying to figure that out - Donald Trump was bandying that word in his 'speech' in Las Vegas last week, in the 'news', and now here. Were you part of the 'we' that interrogated people?

Otherwise, please don't generalize so much.

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Bronze badge

Wrong

"And yet, the guys we waterboarded gave us the name of the courier that allowed us to get Osama."

Really? We found him in 2006?

<http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/05/bin-laden-and-torture.html>

Torture apologists, how predictable.

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@Re

I know some types of people can't understand this, but here it goes:

Interrogation != torture

Until they say exactly who gave the info and under which conditions (fat chance), we won't know, of course. But we DO know, from the reports of ex-operatives, that non-violent, even friendly interrogation gives results while torture tends to get made up crap.

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hmmmm...

hey you dont think that thats WHY they killed him?

(lets face it, if he'd handed himself personally to Ban Ki-Moon at the UN he would been the tragic innocent bystander in a most un characteristic for manhatten, but _totally_unrelated, drive by!)

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a downloaded copy of _Recruiting Jihadis for Dummies_

From the "Tips and Tricks" section:

Don't let on that you live in a swank walled compound with toilets and access to real food when those who would die in your name live in caves eating bugs. It's bad form and may cause resentment among your underlings.

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dunno mate...

Luton is pretty grim, but caves?? bugs???... I dont think so

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Gut feeling ...

Dusty old 1970s "Rolex" porn ... There is most likely no useful intel.

But I'll bet a couple dollars that the .fed will spend as much money as possible trying to decrypt random file system data, in the hopes of finding something that doesn't exist.

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Grenade

considering

he had no telephone and no internet access (right?), i don't think there'll be much of interest on those disks, but i guess time will tell. in any case, they have a great weapon with this, they can now bluff about having information.

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Alert

Ever heard of sneakernet?

What do you think those couriers were couriering?

IMHO, I think it's just as likely that there is a wealth of unprotected or lightly protected info on his machine as it being either empty or completely locked down like that suspected bank embezzler guy in Brazil. Bin Laden *might* not have spent as much time and effort considering/planning what happens when he was found and killed vs. trying not to get caught. The little I could find on Mujahideen Secrets (http://ddanchev.blogspot.com/2008/01/mujahideen-secrets-2-encryption-tool.html) seemed more geared towards data in transit (say, for e-mail) than data at rest (whole disk encryption).

If I had to wager I'd bet that the thumb drives were encrypted but the machines themselves at best had whole disk encryption with a relatively weak password, if not completely unprotected.

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Key length will be too short

You massively overstate the strength of encryption. It's only as good as the key management, and any of the products you mentioned have poor key entry (basically, they expect you to type it in), leading to key lengths maybe a hundred times less than required to resist any brute force attack for more than a few days.

If you are right and there is a "trove" of items, then the likelihood is that they are not encrypted. Again it comes back to key management. Can you imagine OBL keeping track of 20 odd random passphrases in his head? It's easy to encrypt one item, harder to do two, and so on. The existence of a "trove" strongly suggests a lack of crypto or (even worse) key reuse.

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Big Brother

Exactly!

Furthermore, it's not at all unlikely that the US government would be able to gain access to a bank of Crays large enough to crack a 256-bit key within a reasonable timeframe. All it takes is grunt. And all that needs is money.

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I think it's a little naive to think he wouldn't be able to remember them

It seems completely unlikely, especially if in the context of an everyday person, but he wasn't an everyday person. His computer may well hold secrets that could affect terrorist operations around the world, and they could also have been used as evidence if he was taken to a trial. If you're determined it's not difficult to force yourself to memorise about 20 different passphrases, just time consuming, so I'd guess for a smart (smarter than the average person I'd wager) guy who fears for his life and may even believe wholeheartedly in his cause and fear for it more, spending a few days or a week thoroughly planting them in his head wouldn't be too much of a chore.

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easy solution

his pasphrases will be his favorite suras from the Qur'an

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Its easy to remember complex pass phrases

I can remember the lyrics to many popular, and some less than popular tunes. A line or two from one of them would be sufficient. Music can be a powerful memory aid!

Plenty of people can remember the opening or closing lines to famous novels.

A more obvious (perhaps too obvious?) source would be a few lines from the Qu'ran, which presumably he would have already learnt by heart.

In short: No, its easy to remember a pass phrase long enough.

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Key length will be too short

"Can you imagine OBL keeping track of 20 odd random passphrases in his head?"

No, but I can imagine him memorizing the entire Koran. How many passphrases, and of what length, do you think he could derive from that?

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Coat

Text isn't random

There's several complications here, to do with the languages used, but the core point is that text, whether English or Arabic, isn't random. There are sequences of characters which happen a lot, and sequences which never happen. So, while it can be remembered more easily, a password or key is easier to attack than its length would suggest.

If he used a passage from the Koran, it would be relatively easy to brute-force. It's not that huge a key-space. Printed editions run between 200 and 400 pages, depending on edition, and it is roughly the same size as the Christian New Testament. An 8-character alphanumeric password list is a few billion pages long.

(Checks page-count estimate)

Lots bigger, if you want to get technical. OK?

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Flash drive vs magnetic drive.

"flash drives are dangerously hard to purge of data, making thumb drives a good starting point"

Although I can't find it now, I am sure that I recently read an article stating that it was more difficult to extract overwritten data from a flash drive than from a standard magnetic drive. This statement and the article linked to seem to state otherwise. Which one is right?

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Boffin

Different Flash data retention characteristics

"Although I can't find it now, I am sure that I recently read an article stating that it was more difficult to extract overwritten data from a flash drive than from a standard magnetic drive. This statement and the article linked to seem to state otherwise. Which one is right?"

Both are right. Flash drive wear levelling mechanisms routinely put overused physical blocks out of use by sidelining them without overwriting them, while preserving logical geometry by bringing spare blocks into play. Genuinely overwritten flash blocks will be resistant to rotating media forensic attacks based upon analog temperature variations of disk head position leaving residual magnetic evidence accessible using electron microscopy. What the flash industry needs to do to convince knowledgeable users to be willing to put high value confidential data on flash without requiring an expensive end of life physical destruction process, is to provide a full erase mode for the devices, including access to blocks market overused, and so out of normal use.

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Joke

Copsewood: Are you sure...

...that you didn't just get this reply from the BOFH's amazing excuse calendar?

*** Dummy mode on *** !

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Boffin

X-Rays

Flash memory, being EPROM-based, is vulnerable to X-Rays in the same way that conventional EPROM is vulnerable to ultra-violet light. Photons with sufficient energy can dislodge electrons from the floating gate, changing the stored 0 back to a 1.

As, incidentally, are OTP EPROMs; which are, electronically, just UV EPROM dies in cheaper, non-windowed envelopes. And almost any cheap diode (1N4007 or similar) can be used as a "photodiode" for X-rays.

Exactly the same thing is happening on the drum of a laser printer, or in the image sensor of a digital camera, and it's not even that different from when a loud noise sends a precariously-balanced object tumbling. Everything obeys the same fundamental laws of physics -- in this case, waves can impart kinetic energy to something upon which they impinge.

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Anything of interest...

Will no doubt become outdated now they've told the world they have these hard drives, so anyone else who knows what is probably on them will be taking steps to move themselves and others to other locations.

Imagine if it only has the family photo album and a digital copy of the videos that have already been released to the media though, less "mother lode" more "egg on face".

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