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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Anonymous Coward

RE: Anything of interest...

Once a group of people are settled with good security and well laid plans for keeping a low profile, they are difficult to find.

Having to quickly move all those groups and arrange new places new contacts and alike, is as likely to bring them to the attention of other security forces as quickly as breaking any encryption.

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So if the drives were unencrypted and contained no useful information,

the best strategy to try to locate some groups would be to go on worldwide tv and announce you just seized the keys to the kingdom eh?

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Black Helicopters

We won't hear anyway

"It will be interesting to learn just how adept bin Laden was at protecting the data stashed on his computer gear."

Why on earth should we learn about it at all?

The Spooks will certainly want to keep anything they find very deeply secret, so that they can make use of it before other potential targets are warned off.

Given the need to rely on physical couriers, I highly doubt that there's any handy address book on there. Any 'leaks' from the Spooks which do occur will probably be misinformation designed to scare a reaction out of people they haven't been able to find.

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Joke

Anti-Symmetric Keys???

...am I the only one who read that line in the 'Mujahideen Secrets' image as 'Anti-Semitic Keys'?

Or is the whole thing just a late Middle-Eastern April Fools joke.....

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Anonymous Coward

possibly

I was too busy thinking that someone had missed the opportunity of calling it 'MujaHidden Secrets"

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Anonymous Coward

Also

"Islamic Software"

There's not much point having Islamic encryption software if you can' t get an Islamic OS, Islamic picture viewer, Islamic browser, Islamic spreadsheet, Islamic mouse, Islamic processor, Islamic ISP, Islamic fan, Islamic power supply, Islamic monitor, Islamic Tetris etc.

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Correct me if I'm wrong, but...

Isn't the first rule of counter-intelligence, NOT to reveal that you have data?

Now Al-qaida knows the US has the computers, and we must assume that those he had any contact with has some knowledge of what was stored on those media, and will be doing damage control accordingly.

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Black Helicopters

Disclosure suits the interests of the discloser

There are two possibilities:

1. Bin Laden had computers and the US/NSA now have access to these.

2. Bin Laden didn't have computers and the US are lying about him having them.

If 1. is true, the few in Al Quaeda who would have known Bin Laden had computers didn't need the US to tell them that these were captured, they would have already known that these would have been captured in the raid, so nothing useful to them has been disclosed.

if either 1. or 2. is true, it still suits US interests for those in Al Quaeda who didn't know whether or not Bin Laden had computers to be afraid that he had, and that further preemptive strikes against them will occur as a consequence.

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Silver badge
Thumb Up

RE: Disclosure suits the interests of the discloser

You're also forgetting that a large part of the fight against AQ is tracking down and blocking AQ's funds. Bin Liner didn't only use a large amount of the Bin Laden family fortune, he was of value to the Taleban and other fundamentalist groups becuase he organised conduits for funds to pass from "charities" in Saudi Arabia and other countries through to the groups. Whilst I'm not saying Bin Liner may have had a good memory, it is highly likely that he will have resorted to some form of book-keeping, and the sheer complexity makes it almost certain to have been stored on computers. Bin Liner probably didn't have phone and/or Internet lines just to stop people tracking his conversations but also to keep people from finding and hacking into his electronic ledgers.

The fun bit for all those that made donations is now they have no idea whether they are about to lose their money and their liberty - has Uncle Sam got the dirty on them? There will be quite a few rich Saudis getting the sweats over this!

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That's assuming somebody from co-int

managed to get a word in edgewise amongst all the back slapping that they'd managed to get OBL.

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Silver badge

I bet there's nothing worthwhile

He probably hasn't been involved in anything important for a number of years and likely didn't use his computer for anything much.

Of course if they didn't find anything, what would they tell us?

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at last some sense...

after 10 years of smashing his encryption with the worlds most powerful super computer array, the NSA today confirmed that they now have full access to bin-ladens world of warcraft account, the top 10 islamic i tunes and 9 1/2 years worth of downloads from bombay badonka-donks.

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Silver badge

While It Could Have Caused Problems

While the NSA, no doubt, wouldn't need that kind of help, I'm surprised that amateurs haven't hacked some of the various sites to which al-Ekhlass has had to migrate and uploaded a compromised version of Mojahedeen Secrets. Or that, just as there are viruses that look for "known" child porn images, there aren't viruses that target that program.

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Go

How about...

...a new BOINC project to brute-find the decryption key, using idle computing power the world over? Al-Qaeda decryption world wide effort.

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Anonymous Coward

Or maybe they've got nothing

Given how hard they're pushing the "intelligence mother-lode" thing, I wouldn't be at all suprised to find out they actually had naf-all data, and are just bluffing. If they actually had this treasure trove of data, they'd be keeping it really quiet so as not to spook their targets before they were ready to take them down.

Note that if you don't have any useful information, boasting, plausibly, about how you've broken all your targets security is a very valid tactic - the most likely response if for the targets to hurriedly change all their codes and security procedures, and if they're doing it in a panic, some of them will likely screw it up and reveal themselves or their new codes and procedures in the process. Not to mention, it'll totally screw up their organisation's coordination whilst they make all those changes, so they won't be able to do anything useful for a while, which is handy if you're looking to derail a bunch of kneejerk revenge attacks.

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Grenade

perhaps, but 40 minutes?

It is possible they got nothing.

However, the fire fight apparently only lasted about 5 minutes. And they were on the ground about 45 minutes. That allows about 40 minutes to collect "nothing"? I am sure they were not hanging around having mint tea. It was grab and go.

It is possible nothing was there. And it is possible that they spent 40 minutes looking.

But, if they planned on never having visitors the chances are fairly good that they were less careful about keeping things clean. Perhaps no plans to leave suddenly. Moving around will just get yourself discovered.

But, all that being said, I like the idea of claiming to have captured the lot. That should force everyone that was not aware of the place being clean to have to jump up and move.

I am sure the Seals are ready for a whack the mole game.

And it is possible that they get collect a fair amount and still wanted to see who jumps up. It is not going to be easy to carry out a number of similar raids in Pakistan. But, if everyone moves, you have much better targets.

You have to keep in mind that they said they did not really know Bin Laden was there. And I think that is a true statement.

Having good solid intelligence is really hard to come by.

I trust the military and the CIA is playing this kind of game with some skill and intelligence regardless of what it looks like. Perhaps too much to ask of the military but the CIA has a few smart people on this.

I only hope they can do what they are hired to carry out.

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Realistic assessment as opposed to my usual DA stance:

The drives are worthless, but since AQ knows that's what the West focuses on, you play that up in the media. This also falsely boosts AQ confidence that their real secrets are safe. The real treasure trove are the pieces of paper the 40 man team gathered in those 40 minutes before they took off again. Being a paper system, it isn't as inherently secure as a robust computer system is. NSA should be able to break those quickly and move on them. As an added bonus, anyone who does change their codes and processes in a panic can also get flushed. Wins all around for the intelligence community.

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FAIL

"Collect nothing"

AKA "Searching"

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information

Or maybe, well, since he was probably out of the loop by now, it just doesn't hold anything really useful at all. The man had serious health issues and had been on the run for a long time, he was probably only used as a symbol and to make videos.

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Pint

Games

No telephone and no internet, I bet the hardrives are full of games, how else to fill the hours of boredom?

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Pirate

That explains everything

The SEAL team were actually in the employ of UbiSoft.

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Pirate

LMAO

So this was a copyright enforcement action?

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Anonymous Coward

Don't know how ..

Newton, Einstein, Mozart etc. managed I really don't

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Anonymous Coward

More to the point...

... when will all this data in the hands of the US government, now appear on Wikileaks?

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Pint

What are the US...

...going to do with 100 million PS3 gamer details?

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neb
Joke

did they...

...look under his keyboard for the post-it note with his كلمة السر on it?

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Silver badge

If it wasn't there originally ...

... it sure as hell will be after "they" have finished processing it.

I expect the merkins have a whole trove of intelligence that they can't attribute to anyone, without blowing their cover or causing even more political ructions, or even stuff they'd like to be true - if only it could be assigned to a credible (preferably dead, so they can't refute it) source.

What better than to "find" all this stuff on Osama's hard drive. It would effectively give them carte-blanche to carry out as many purges - wherever they please. All based on the transparently dodgy "it came from OBL computers, so it must be true". Don't be surprised if one of the first things to be "found" will be a list of credit card numbers/mobile phone numbers - that will belong to people the yanks don't like, but couldn't touch, before this.

I wonder if, in further efforts to smear him, they will "discover" material of dubious moral values too - or would that be over-egging it?

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PGP crack

You're assuming the Langley/NIA spods don't already have backdoor access to PGP or other systems... even if they don't, a quick BinLadenAtHome project will soon see us through - I'd dedicate some cycles to that.

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FAIL

PGP Backdoors

You do realise that the source code for PGP is available?

If there were backdoors, someone would have found them by now.

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Still not enough

Reflections on Trusting Trust

Ken Thompson

http://cm.bell-labs.com/who/ken/trust.html

Unless you build the thing yourself out of discrete transistors, you still have to trust the people who made the processor.

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Try...

http://www.opencores.org

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Thumb Up

Almost

Oh, please. Everyone who calls themself a computer security researcher has read and understands the implications of that paper.

If you can trust the processor, you have three choices.

One is simply to reimplement PGP in assembly language, so you don't need a potentially-untrustworthy compiler. Assembly language source code is as clean as it gets.

The second, more involved method is to write a C interpreter in assembly language. It only has to be good enough to run the compiler interpretatively while it compiles its own source code. It will be slow, for sure, but it only has to be done once; the compiler it compiled is definitely "clean".

Or, of course, you can manually examine the disassembly of the compiled compiler -- this is likely to be the slowest method.

If you're paranoid enough (or have a good enough reason) not to trust the processor, and want to build your own, valves probably would be a better choice than transistors.

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@A J Stiles

>>Everyone who calls themself a computer security researcher has read ... that paper.

Quite probably, but this it not apparent from your first comment. After asserting that checking the PGP source code is sufficient to find back doors, you have gone on to mention three ways to go one step further. So I don't se the reason for "Oh. Please".

>>If you're paranoid enough

Someone who has the NSA as an enemy probably needs to be that paranoid.

>>valves

Why valves, unless you want to make it EMP proof at the same time???

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This 'ere "Islamic" program

is probably just a wrapper to standard libraries, so is presumably as secure as any other.

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Boffin

Re: Dom 3

It's possible to take secure standard libraries and wrap them in a way that's insecure. Encryption is very subtle...

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Anonymous Coward

I reckon he retired years ago

There won't be anything of interest. In particular, I suspect there will continue to be no evidence to connect him to 9/11, but US politicians will continue to let the more ignorant members of the general public believe that Bin Laden "masterminded" 9/11 without actually saying so. Just like with the so-called "weapons of mass destruction".

Bin Laden did, of course, participate in the 1998 bombings of US embassies so it is possible that he was planning something else along those lines. However, I'd put my money on him having basically retired several years ago.

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intelligence

I mean you take a 80y/o senile gent and a 14y/0 boy and torture them for years but when a leader with probably critical information is found you put TWO shots through his head. OK they could never put him in court and his very, very rich saudi family woudl pull strings to get him out of GITMO but turning him into a martyr? Stupid political decisions. I can only assume the merkins WANT reasons to keep the war on oil^Wterror going.

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FAIL

Dumb

If the US were keep him alive, all that does is invite extremists to capture, torture and hold for ransom large numbers of Westerners, in the hope that they would get him released. That saga has played out repeatedly in the Middle East, usually against the Israelis - they still have two soldiers being held for ransom by Hezzbolah in Beruit, in the hope that Israel will release Hezz operatives that they have in prison.

Holding on to high-value prisoners just doesn't work when you have terrorists involved.

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Black Helicopters

and so the simplest solution...

Would be to use a convenient replacement to act as the body before it is hurriedly disposed of at sea for 'religious reasons', while the real person is shipped off to a nice black holding cell somewhere.

After all, he's now dead. And live interrogation beats hard disks every time.

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Joke

Also...

You can interrogate people by beating them with hard disks.

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Coffee/keyboard

It's all in the head

I would assume it unlikely he would have kept anything of relevance on a computer. Perhaps some reference material but nothing about planned attacks, places or people, that would have all been just remembered.

I even very much doubt he was even involved in anything of relevance any more. He was just a figurehead who would say well done. If he had been involved in more recent attacks they probably would have tracked him down a lot sooner than this. The best way for nobody to find you is to not tell anyone how to contact you (or apparently have a smart phone).

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Plausible, but...

Do you want to depend on that bet winning?

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Anonymous Coward

NSA

Don't under estimate the resources of the NSA. If they throw all their computing resources at this challenge (unlikely), I'd guess (as the author says, no one knows exactly what their capabilities are) the information will be extracted within a couple of months

This assumes the task is given to the NSA from the military in Afghanistan.

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Paris Hilton

pr0n

because when you have no internet connection you need a good stockpile.

Paris because thats probably Osama's most watched vid.

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Cultural baddies are fiction

Osama bin Laden was a source of funds, ideology, strategy and initiatives.

He did not work fifteen hours every day plotting the next atrocity. He occasionally gave someone a cheque drawn on a bank located on a small island in the Caribbean, in the real world enough to settle a decent mortgage, outlined the purpose and said "Get on with it.."

He communicated through a few trusted colleagues.

He had to observe the world, so he read newspapers like you or I.

His hard drives are empty of intelligence.

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Black Helicopters

Obvious tactic would be to clone the date first

Run the encryption software on a script and keep brute forcing it. Crude, slow and stupid but will work. Eventually.

I'd guess if the drives are encrypted using this Islamist software the NSA has been studying it for some time already looking for implementation weaknesses. Uncleared buffer that caches last password you entered perhaps?

Of course they could get lucky and find the password was on the postit note he was trying to swallow when they shot him.

Black helicopter because for once they really were sent out.

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Q&A

Q: “Can you imagine what's on Osama bin Laden's hard drive?”

A: Yes, lots of porn.

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Paris Hilton

no proof then ?

Oh, so *this* will be the excuse for not finding - and revealing - anything substantial about Ben Laden's computer.

- no photo : he was shot in the head you know, so he's not recognizable

- no corps : he was dumped into the sea couple of hours later to not to leave any mausoleum

- no info from his computer : he used strong encryption, you see

- no information : we tracked him thanks to informants who are in prison in Guantanamo since 5 years

This gets fishier every day. From the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "Now that I actually get to tell the story ... I mean, does it strike you as odd, Number 2 ?"

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FAIL

Nope

You made up the last two, so the only fishy thing here is your post.

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TRT
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FAIL

Did the marine...

remember to also grab all the post-it notes he (or she) could find?

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