Forget about data stealing trojans. Unidentified thieves got a hold of top secret plans for a joint French-British drone aircraft project the old fashioned way: by snatching an executive’s briefcase at a Paris train station.
An executive from the French defense contractor Dassault Aviation had the sensitive documents pilfered after he set the briefcase containing the documents down to purchase a Eurostar rail ticket at Paris’s Gare du Nord station on February 2, according to a report in Le Parisien. The man briefly left the briefcase unattended to aid a female colleague who was being harassed by an unknown assailant. The altercation appears to have been a carefully planned ruse to distract the executive’s attention. Police are examining closed circuit film from Gare du Nord station to try to identify the men who carried out the heist, the BBC reports.
Dassault Aviation said no sensitive documents were taken and the project’s security is not at risk, but have not said what kinds of documents were stolen.
Information on pilot-less drone aircraft have become a focus of espionage in recent years, as the U.S. military has increased its reliance on the devices in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
In October, 2011, reports surfaced about a troubling and persistent virus infection at Creech Air Force base was kept secret from senior Air Force cyber security officials for weeks while IT staff in the affected unit at Creech struggled to eradicate the infection. The Trojan horse program in question was observed logging the keystrokes of remote pilots controlling drones in flight over Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries.
In a possibly related incident in December, an intact drone aircraft was captured by Iran, which claimed credit for hacking into the control system used to pilot the aircraft and landing it within that country. U.S. military officials have denied those claims.
In November, the U.S. Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive issued a report that accused both China and Russia of conducting far flung cyber espionage campaigns against U.S. and other Western firms in an effort to promote domestic interests. The report found that cyber espionage on the part of China and Russia – and even from U.S. allies – is a “pervasive threat” to U.S. interests that surpasses even the threat posed by traditional forms of spying.
Despite that, and increased attention in the media to the threat posed by digital theft of data, old-school heists of documents like the one at Gard du Nord are hardly unusual. In July, German authorities reported that top secret blueprints for the headquarters of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), that country’s main intelligence agency, were stolen from a secure construction trailer on the site of the new building.