back to article To hack Australia and learn its secrets, buy second-hand furniture

The Australian government has suffered what must be one of the most ridiculously embarrassing security breach in its history: Cabinet records from five successive governments were sent to a second-hand furniture store... in filing cabinets. The trove ended up in the hands of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ABC, which …

  1. Winkypop Silver badge

    "Beware of the Leopard."

    ......a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard.”

    Obviously not.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Beware of the Leopard."

      'cos aussie wildlife is much more scary than a big pussycat.

  2. TReko

    Police visit to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 3,2,1...

    Good thing this happened now. New Aussie laws propose locking up journo's for 15 years if this sort of thing happens again. Problem solved!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You don't need magic encryption

      It appears all you ever need is a power drill... for the physical access, cabinet, machine or, gulp, human!

      1. Tikimon

        Re: You don't need magic encryption, OR a drill

        No worries, simply pick the lock. I've done that at my office many times. Key lost, key broken, key locked in the cabinet (yes...). My best time to open a standard filing cabinet using a bent nail and paperclip is ten seconds. When I bought myself a pick set, that dropped to five seconds. Some are more difficult than others, such as the fire cabinets here with anti-picking features. Those take much longer, but I get 'em. Recently I had to pick the security lock on the electrical room (generator failed during power outage) because a manager had misplaced the key. Fifteen minutes to noodle that one, and avoided calling out a locksmith at 3:30 AM.

        It's one of the best skills you can learn, and kinda fun as well.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: You don't need magic encryption, OR a drill

          Picking the lock for physical access to machinery is order of magnitudes and some slower if instead tackling electronic encryption.

        2. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: You don't need magic encryption, OR a drill

          "It's one of the best skills you can learn, and kinda fun as well."

          I agree! As a bonus, the locks on desks and file cabinets are typically the easiest locks to pick, so they make excellent practice for someone new to the art.

        3. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

          Re: You don't need magic encryption, OR a drill

          "No worries, simply pick the lock."

          This. A nation created by the deportation of a bunch of convicts and there's no one left with the skills? Shame!

          OK. I'll get my coat. The one with the slide hammer in the pocket.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let me see, is this the same Govt

    That are insisting on backdoor keys to the whole Data Kingdom? Morons!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      Re: Let me see, is this the same Govt

      That's not a backdoor, it's a power drill.

      Now we have a reference point for Not-a-backdoor.

  4. Notas Badoff

    ElReg: so educational

    "White-anting is an Australian term for the process of internal erosion of a foundation. It is often used in reference to groups such as political parties or organisations where information from group insiders is 'leaked' or used to undermine the goals of the group. The Macquarie Dictionary says the verb "to white-ant" means "to subvert or undermine from within".

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: ElReg: so educational

      I, too, hit Wikipedia, and rejoiced at this new term. Vocabulary widened daily!

    2. Rattus Rattus

      Re: ElReg: so educational

      Named after the insect - "white ants," better known as termites. 'Cos they're fairly ant shaped, and they're, well, white.

  5. Magani

    Dept of Corrections and Clarifications

    Our previous statement saying "The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has already issued a statement saying it will investigate what happened and won't comment further for now.

    should have read:-

    "The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is currently undertaking a rigorous search to find a suitable scapegoat at least two civil service grades below anyone who really matters.

    Thank you,

    Sir Humphrey

  6. The Aussie Paradox

    Australia: Land of clowns

    And this is why I believe there is no such gubberment coverup of UFO's/9-11/Fake Moon Landings/Donald Trump.

    If they cannot prevent a simple filing cabinet from getting into the wrong hands, how the heck can they hide the above events?

    1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Australia: Land of clowns

      Their plan worked! The conspiracies are safe because you haven't realised that the Government that is so incompetent is just a front for the Illuminati/Lizardmen/Aliens/Atlantean.

      1. The Aussie Paradox

        Re: Australia: Land of clowns

        If they were a front for the Illuminati/Lizardmen/Aliens/Atlanteans would they be THIS terrible at, well.... everything?

  7. dol

    Safe hands

    So the largest 5 eyes country let decades of secret files leave the building on a dvd marked as "lady GaGa" and now another 5 eyes country sent 15 years of secret files to a second hand shop because they had lost the filing cabinet key. Truly the world is in safe hands.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Safe hands

      You might want to dial your expectations of government competence down a few notches to bring it more into line with reality...

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Safe hands

        ... expectations of government competence ...


        They're at homeopathic levels right now...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Safe hands

          "...They're at homeopathic levels right now..."

          Still much too high !!!

          Where x = Competence.*

          Start at Zero (or as near as you can get) .... slowly increment up/down in Zeroth steps until 'expectations of x' are just begining to register then drop back 1 level.

          Well Done your 'expectations of x' have now been set exactly where they need to be set for minimum disappointment !!!

          *Amazingly, this 'works' for many other 'values of x' for Governments globally as well as locally.

          :) :)

  8. Alister Silver badge

    Deja Vu all over again

    Do I not recall a similar incident in the UK last year? I seem to remember the filing cabinet(s) in question ended up in an antique shop in Norfolk?

    Ah yes, here

    Good to see our Antipodean cousins are still following where Britain leads...

  9. jake Silver badge

    More common than you might think.

    I purchased a pallet load of used 5 drawer SteelCase filing cabinets from a company called "Weirdstuff Warehouse" back in 1989. There were a dozen in all, arranged in a 3x4 grid on the pallet. One of the employees allowed as to how they had come in with a bunch of office equipment from a small engineering campus that Unisys had just closed in South City (South San Francisco).

    None had keys. Knowing that it's easy to replace a drilled out lock in this kind of cabinet, I was pretty happy to pay $40 apiece. The way I figured it, I'd sell 10 for $120 each after replacing the locks ($20 per), for a nice tidy profit of $480, plus two "free" locking file cabinets, which was what I needed for my startup.

    It turned out that the lower three drawers of the center two cabinets were full of half inch mag tape. Half were labeled "Sperry", and the other half were labeled "Burroughs", and from the labels they contained system images, source code and some kind of corporate data. Being the curious type, I eyeballed the contents of a couple at random. They contained what was written on the tin.

    I have no idea why they were "hidden" in the middle of the load like that, but I have my suspicions. Rather than jump through hoops to return them to Unisys, and having no use for the code, I bulk erased them and re-used the tapes. I wish now I had kept them :-)

    1. mathew42

      Re: More common than you might think.

      Agreed. At UNI, I purchased a second hand locked filing cabinet. I didn't even need to drill out the lock as a friendly locksmith was happy to cut me a new key based on the lock design and key number. Turned out the filing cabinet was full of client files from a legal practitioner who had retired. Passed the documents onto Law Society to be taken care of properly.

      However, one would like to hope that our government might take better care of documents.

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        Re: More common than you might think.

        When I was in Uni, I taught myself to pick locks and jimmy file cabinets.

        The skill has come in handy once or twice (but is used only for good)

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: More common than you might think.

          Yes, I know how to pick locks. And yes, desk drawer and file cabinet locks are really, really easy to pick (and good practice for the neophyte). And yes, once its open, and if you have a set of blanks, it's trivial to cut new keys. However, I had no blanks and didn't want to pay a locksmith for a house call. The fastest/easiest/cheapest method at my disposal was to drill & replace. Also, the folks I sold them to appreciated the matching numbers on the locks & keys, which didn't hurt any.

    2. Agamemnon

      Re: More common than you might think.

      I spent many a Happy Day in Weird Stuff. From a wee child to, well, a tall child, raiding that place for the greatest geedunk was just Randomized Joy.

      Beers to you bud, you've made my day.

      Oh, was just in that neighborhood recently (visiting Santa Cruz, needed stuff==Fry's Run!)...*sigh*: I'm sorry to say, the old Ham Radio Store on Lawrence is no longer with us. Just thought you might like to know.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: More common than you might think.

        Tha Ham store went away years ago. Are you sure it was on Lawrence? Not Kifer?

        The Source is long gone, unfortunately.

        HalTec on Linda Vista in Mountain View is also gone, alas.

        HalTed is still with us.

        Weirdstuff is a relative newcomer, and still here.

        For those who don't know, the above five "recycled" parts stores are the un-sung heros of Silicon Valley. Much of the computer/high-tech revolution started with a nerd/geek rummaging around in their parts bins.

        HalTed and Weirdstuff both ship. If you're fiddling about with a RasPi project (or similar), and are having trouble finding a strange bit of kit, try them. One or both probably have it. If it's not listed online, drop 'em a note. They are responsive to serious inquiries. Both have a generous return policy. Both have regular hours, and are open to the general public. Well worth a visit if you are in the South Bay. They are close enough together (under five miles by road) that you can visit both and have a good nostalgia-browse at both in a short afternoon.

        I'm not an employee, just a very long term satisfied customer.

  10. Teiwaz Silver badge

    They buy 2nd hand furniture in Australia???

    Conservative Cabinet for Sale

    (or nearest offer)

    21 items, Slightly Foxed, Barely used, minimal storage capacity.

    Apply W1S Box 1

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: They buy 2nd hand furniture in Australia???

      Conservative Cabinet for Sale, 21 items, Slightly Foxed, Barely used

      Some with missing spine or not in original cover, may be warped.

      1. Alister Silver badge

        Re: They buy 2nd hand furniture in Australia???

        Sorry for the double post, but:

        Slightly Foxed

        Heavily Badgered

    2. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: They buy 2nd hand furniture in Australia???

      But no one would want Jeremy Hunt even with a large discount!

  11. aliceklaar?
    Thumb Up

    Forget the Leopard - Watch out for the Red Back etc

    For a sing along guide to the those dangerous beasties you may encounter

    "Come To Australia" by Scared Weird Little Guys

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge
  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not that uncommon, simply you don't hear about it often.

    I work in the NHS and inspect buildings we are vacating. It's surprising how often files are left behind, usually it's just leaflets for patients but we have a "zero left" policy which states every sheet of paper, regardless of what it is must be filed (patient/staff info), recycled(out of date literature) or reused(current literature).

    It's not a cost cutting exercise, it's an easy way to ensure we don't leave sensitive data behind which in some of the older buildings will be hand written, not printed and sometimes on old ledgers and diaries which haven't been touched in decades.

    I've recently decommissioned an old mental health building and found over 300 patient related items in lofts and under the floor of the old mortuary, many of these documents dated back to before the founding of the NHS when this facility was essentially run by the church so nobody worked in these buildings even knew of their existence until I went poking around the mortuary with a torch (felt like I was in X Files).

    Thing is because none of the patients mentioned were alive now we had no reason to make this information public and it's not the first time this has happened. However we have kept the data to see if there's anything of value contained in it which could be of benefit. It's likely it'll end up being used as part of university studies into the way patients use to be treated and the language used.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not that uncommon, simply you don't hear about it often.

      That sounds like an interesting job!

    2. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: Not that uncommon, simply you don't hear about it often.

      Donate to a university so that they are archived and available forever?

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        Re: Not that uncommon, simply you don't hear about it often.

        I think I'd be too afraid of whatever else I might find to go poking about under an old mortuary floor with just a torch...

    3. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Not that uncommon, simply you don't hear about it often.

      Check out the (numerous) YouTube videos of people engaging in urban exploration (exploring abandoned buildings). When the buildings are old offices/hospitals/etc., it is almost certain that they'll find mounds of rather sensitive documents that had been left behind.

  13. msknight

    "The Department of Prime Minister and Filing Cabinet " ... fixed that for yah ;-)

  14. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    Lost filing cabinet keys?...

    ... here you go:

    No drilling required!

  15. Mystic Megabyte
    Black Helicopters

    Dangerous data

    A long time ago I was given a fully working Altos 586 running Xenix. It contained the credit card numbers of the company and all their office documents. The owners had fled when their oil embargo breaking scheme had been discovered. (not just a few barrels!)

    I did not fancy a [redacted] hitman coming to my door :(

    I wiped the SCSI drive and stuck it in a 386DX box, quite a powerful beast in it's day.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Dangerous data

      "I wiped the SCSI drive and stuck it in a 386DX box, quite a powerful beast in it's day."

      I'd have been inclined to cd to the directory concerned and

      rm -rf *

      echo junk > junk

      cat <junk >> junk

      #wait for crash

      rm junk

      and then kept it as a Xenix box - provided it was far enough back in the day.

    2. David Shaw

      Re: Dangerous data

      I was given a cardboard box in the late eighties containing a Mac512k (M0001W model just before the Macintosh Plus) in very small bits. It came with OS2.1 on 3.5" floppies. And a five megabyte Hard Disk.

      Assembled all the bits, got it to boot, but no joy from the HDD. Opened it back up, and noticed that the HDD was slaved off the Mac PSU and had a dry-ish joint, possible due to overcurrent, overtemp in the unventilated box. Bit of lead/tin later & it booted into a Ferranti defence-secret environment containing encrypted HDD, in 1986! missiles, sonar, eurofighter - who knows. The HDD was encrypted, but as it failed mounted, it was able to be remounted without a problem, allowing me to delete everything, including the crypto system and install boring office programs. The Mac still boots and the 5MB HDD still overheats.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Black Helicopters

        Re: 5mb?

        At the size of those tracks, I'd not be too keen to post that the thing still exists. Data recovery after a partition might be possible?! Gulp!

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

  17. Clive Harris

    I was handed a secret military radar station

    It was a long time ago and I've since emigrated, but I'm still a bit nervous about telling this story.

    This incident happened in the run-up to the first Gulf War. I was living in the UK, and I had a small sideline importing hand-crafted ornaments from Thailand. The Customs shed at the local airport called me to say that one of my shipments was ready for collection, containing seven boxes of assorted ornaments. When I arrived, I was surprised to find that the boxes were unusually well packed - usually they were scruffy re-used cardboard boxes. But the Customs people assured me me that they were definitely my shipment, so I loaded them up and took them home.

    I got the boxes home and started opening them up, helped by my neighbour, who wanted to see what goodies had arrived this time. I was rather surprised when the first box revealed a rather complicated-looking piece of electronics, accompanied by a label saying "Secret. To be opened at secure location only".

    My neighbour wanted to plug it in to see what it would do, but I decided that was unwise (probably would have targetted a cruise missile on me. or something). I immediately called up the Customs people, and found myself talking to a very relieved Customs officer.

    "Err, I think you've handed me the wrong boxes"

    "Heck, I'm glad to hear from you. We were just about to send a load of lacquerware and silk fans to the local US airforce base. We've given you their new military radar station"

    "What shall I do with it?"

    "Please bring it back, but very carefully. It's worth a fortune"

    "well, OK. But there's no way I'm insured for a cargo like that"

    " Right, please just drive very carefully"

    I got the boxes back to them without any more trouble, and swapped them for my Thai ornaments.

    I never heard anything more after that. I assume the equipment was part of the preparation for the pending war with Iraq.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  18. leeCh

    Even charities get this

    I was once buying some stuff on tender from a charity, they had closed down one of their offices. When I turned up to get what I had bought they were busy drilling out the lock on an old safe (no key) just to make sure there was nothing important inside it.

    The only thing that could have been in there was old financial data or patient records, but they still wanted to make sure - in the end it was empty.

    A charity in a 3rd world country thought that checking what was in a locked old safe was appropriate, yet a locked cabinet in a 1st world country (that weighs too much) doesn't warrant the same care...

  19. razorfishsl

    Australian.... what more can you say.....

    you can bet if it was a locked fridge with some cans rattling about inside......

  20. GrapeBunch

    What's this Telstra thing?

    A Frisian Kangaroo ? Therein lies a tel.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: What's this Telstra thing?

      Two takes on the concept of Frisian-roo:

      Me: That must be where they get milkshakes down under.

      Wife: That would be a jumper with springs!

  21. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Holding it wrong

    Most of the office file cabinets I've seen arrive locked with they key inside. You unlock them by turning them upside down. I wonder if the original office facilities staff is laughing their asses off reading about this?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Holding it wrong

      Inversion won't work with top of the line Steel Case cabinets. The new ones ship with the keys taped to the outside, behind the top drawer pull so they don't get rubbed off during transit.

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