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MoD's Error Leaks Secrets of UK Nuclear Submarine 248

Posted by timothy
from the captain-ramius-did-have-a-scottish-brogue dept.
Tasha26 writes "UK's Ministry of Defence admitted that secret information about its nuclear powered submarines was leaked on the internet by mistake. A 'technical error' (i.e. turning the background colour of certain text to black) meant that sensitive blacked-out parts of the online MoD report could be read by anyone who copy-pasted it into another document. This accidental leak reveals, among many other things, how easy it would be to cause a Fukushima-style reactor meltdown in a sub, and details of measures used by the US Navy to protect its own nuclear submarines."
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MoD's Error Leaks Secrets of UK Nuclear Submarine

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  • People Are Stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 17, 2011 @05:31AM (#35846306)

    Why are the people who control dangerous things always so stupid?

    Simple: The vast majority of people are stupid.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      I'll use Hanlon's razor on your reply and merely point out that at least half the population are of above average intelligence.

      • I'll use Hanlon's razor on your reply and merely point out that at least half the population are of above average intelligence.

        Many intelligent people have zero common sense, which is often the reason for seemingly stupid acts.

      • by peragrin (659227)

        while your quite correct in theory, one must remember that if your average your still and idiot to begin with.

        the "average" person isn't smart enough to understand the difference in words like redaction , deletion and blackout.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Jawnn (445279)

          while your quite correct in theory, one must remember that if your average your still and idiot to begin with.

          the "average" person isn't smart enough to understand the difference in words like redaction , deletion and blackout.

          Or, say..., "your" and "you're".

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        I'll use Hanlon's razor on your reply and merely point out that at least half the population are of above average intelligence.

        "Average" is not where I draw the line between stupid and smart. If there is such a line, it would be well above the mean line.

    • by Kilrah_il (1692978) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @05:42AM (#35846374)

      Actually, 50% of the people have below-average intelligence (assuming a Gaussian distribution), which is a far cry from a "vast majority". It's just that here on /. the average intelligence is above that of the general population (yea, I know), so we tend to look down on all the "others".
      Using background color to black-out sensitive material may seem stupid to us on /., but it is understandable that someone who doesn't know much about computers will think it is secure, esp. since the final PDF file is uneditable. The question is why someone with, obviously, minimal computer skills is given such an important task?

      • Re:People Are Stupid (Score:5, Interesting)

        by u38cg (607297) <calum@callingthetune.co.uk> on Sunday April 17, 2011 @06:28AM (#35846524) Homepage
        Since there is no one way to measure intelligence, it's not really possible to say whether intelligence distribution is Gaussian (or anything else). IQ scores, however, are co-erced to a Gaussian distribution, one of the things that has always made me deeply suspicious of them. It is very clear that the natural distribution is *much* fatter tailed to the right than the Gaussian.
        • Technically, it is obvious that the the "real" distribution of IQ scores in not Gaussian, if only because in a Gaussian distribution both tails should continue on to infinity, which is untrue for IQ scores (in both directions).

          • by u38cg (607297)
            Actually, no. No IQ test contains measures sufficiently sensitive, but *by design* it should in theory encounter people with negative IQs. By in theory I mean once in every hundred billion people, roughly.
      • The question is why someone with, obviously, minimal computer skills is given such an important task?

        Because his manager has given him glowing performance reviews, primarily because of his stellar computer skills compared to his reviewing manager; he may even be the "go to guy" for computer issues and the ad hoc trainer for his department.

    • Why are the people who control dangerous things always so stupid?

      Simple: The vast majority of people are stupid.

      Let's not forget that the vast majority of people who control dangerous things assume the vast majority of people are stupid so they don't do enough to protect things from the people who aren't as dumb as they should be.

    • by hey! (33014)

      But that doesn't explain the gap in expectations. You'd expect people who have such responsible positions not to be representative of the population, and I expect they're not. The lack. may be more one of imagination than intelligence.

      The one exceptional virtue of a bureaucracy is consistency ; the corresponding vice is inflexibility. People who rise in them reflect. this. They may be very reliable persons, but expecting them to wonder whether something actually works the way it appears to might be too much

  • Fukushima-style? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by neokushan (932374) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @05:31AM (#35846310)

    "This accidental leak reveals, among many other things, how easy it would be to cause a Fukushima-style reactor meltdown in a sub"

    Is that it, now? Is every single thing to do with nuclear reactors going to be compared to Fukushima from now on? What about if terrorists wanted to create a Chernobyl-style meltdown, or how about a three-mile-island-style meltdown?
    No really, it's fine, I don't mind throwing random keywords in there to grab extra attention when it's completely unnecessary.

    • by Kilrah_il (1692978) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @05:37AM (#35846346)

      Fukushima is the Library of Congress of nuclear meltdowns. Just as 9/11 is the LoC of terror attacks. People love relative terms; nobody understands a 10^9 becquerel of radiation.

    • by Kronotross (1671418) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @06:59AM (#35846624)
      Obviously they meant that it reveals how easy it would be to hit the submarine with a tidal wave after it experiences a ~9.0 earthquake, thus disconnecting its power from the energy grid it relies on to cool its core.
    • by TheSync (5291) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @07:01AM (#35846628) Journal

      Fukushima meltdown means your backup cooling method goes out after a scram (and tsunami), and you are basically screwed. This requires a failure of imagination about worst possible scenarios combined with a bad plant location.

      Chernobyl explosion is a criticality accident. This requires a really high level of ignorant stupidity or purposeful attack.

      Three Mile Island meltdown is that you don't realize a valve is open and your core water boils away. This requires a level of stupidity in human/machine interaction.

      • Sincerely interested here: how would you categorize the Davis-Besse near miss [wikipedia.org] on this scale?
    • by JamesP (688957)

      Not to mention that, the average nuclear submarine has between 0.01 to 0.001 the amount of fuel than one reactor at Fukushima (maybe less)

      And a (slightly) different technology

      Next thing we'll know they're calling a RTG "this is flying Fukushima "

    • This just seems like a such a bad comparison to me, the Fukushima-style reactor meltdown was a "we ran out of water" thing; how would that happen in a submarine?

      • Well, I do not think they have any pipes to pour sea water into the reactor.... so being in a submarine does not help to that (indeed Fukushima was at the coast and that did not get, either).

  • Junior Member? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kilrah_il (1692978) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @05:34AM (#35846330)

    From the article:

    The senior technology consultant at web safety firm Sophos said: “It’s a staggeringly stupid thing to do. Anyone with even an elementary knowledge of computing would know how to read it. I can only assume they gave it to a junior member of staff to deal with.

    On the contrary, a junior member probably would have had some computer know-how. They probably gave it to some old-timer who knows nothing about computers (apologies to all /. {1,2,3} UIDs; I am talking about mere mortals, and I will be sure to get off your lawn) and he just thought that if he changes the background, the words will remain blacked-out forever.

    Oh, and BTW, what's with the last sentence?

    Two weeks ago two officers were shot – one fatally – on HMS Astute, when it was docked in Southampton. Sailor Ryan Donovan, 23, has been charged with murder.

    I don't see how it is related to the article, except in regards of it talking about one of Britain's submarines. Talk about tangentiality.

    • by agw (6387)

      From the article:

      Two weeks ago two officers were shot – one fatally – on HMS Astute, when it was docked in Southampton. Sailor Ryan Donovan, 23, has been charged with murder.

      I don't see how it is related to the article, except in regards of it talking about one of Britain's submarines. Talk about tangentiality.

      Guy in suicide mode shooting his fellow soldiers in walking distance to a nuclear reactor IS worth mentioning.
      It also reminds me of Hunt for Red October, which was a cool movie.

  • Daily Star? (Score:5, Informative)

    by neokushan (932374) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @05:37AM (#35846342)

    On another note, why in the name of fuck is Slashdot posting anything from the Daily Star? The newspaper is most famous for its page-3 topless girls and their sheer determination to use words with as few syllables as possible.

    Have a look at the website, the topics along the top, they've got an entire section dedicated to "Babes" and what's more the bottom of the article has the words "More 'News' Here". That's right, not even the website itself genuinely believes that it has real news there, instead opting to put the term in quotes.

    Seriously...the daily star? Is this what slashdot has come to?

    • Re:Daily Star? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @06:15AM (#35846496)

      The newspaper is most famous for its page-3 topless girls

      Which is something that Slashdot could use more of! Forget, "OMG! Ponies!" How about next April 1st, we see a page-3 topless girls Slashdot site. Sure should be more interesting than all of those other April 1st articles . . .

    • Re:Daily Star? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Sunday April 17, 2011 @06:22AM (#35846506) Homepage

      On another note, why in the name of fuck is Slashdot posting anything from the Daily Star? The newspaper is most famous for its page-3 topless girls and their sheer determination to use words with as few syllables as possible.

      So what if they have pictures of totty in their pages, that is not what is being linked to. The Daily Star do not seem to have made the story up, the write up seems as good as you get anywhere else. It appears that the Daily Star alterted the MOD about their stupidity so they are the origin of the story & deserve credit for that.

      If you are such an intellectual snob that you won't read the Daily Star, here is the story on the BBC [bbc.co.uk].

      • by Namarrgon (105036)

        It appears that the Daily Star alterted the MOD about their stupidity

        So even the Daily Star is smarter than the Ministry of Defense now?

        We are so screwed.

    • by Mark Hood (1630)

      Probably because they're the ones who broke the story - it's been picked up by slightly more high-brow outlets too, but it's a tradition that you link to the source of a story. Even the BBC point to them: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13107413 [bbc.co.uk]

      Unless you have a blog to pimp, and need the ad revenue... then you post your link on the front page and wait for the Slashdot effect to make you rich ;)

      • by KZigurs (638781)

        I can only imagine the twitch of the editor at BBC.

        *we* ... *link* ... *daily star* ...

  • Obviously, this is all the fault of wikileaks & Julian Assange! It was his actions that awoke the appetite of the general public to consume dangerous information that they are not allowed to have. Even the safeguards put in place by the government to protect its people from such dangerous information, the Freedom of Information Act, is now no longer effective. We need to pass new legislation quickly to correct this issue at once!

    Therefore, I submit the following legislation for review:
    1) Make using Copy

  • the actual news (Score:5, Informative)

    by johnjones (14274) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @05:46AM (#35846386) Homepage Journal

    DO NOT look at the Star newspaper it's like looking at the national inquirer....

    the people who broke the news where UK channel 4

    see this link for the story

    http://www.channel4.com/news/britains-nuclear-subs-potentially-vulnerable-to-accidents [channel4.com]

    the document seems flattened but is here
    http://robedwards.typepad.com/files/declassified-report-to-mod-defence-board.pdf/a [typepad.com]

    anyone actually able to copy and paste from it ?

    why does the MOD use microsoft word for these type of things is beyond me...

    regards

    John Jones

    p.s. do you think china et. al. have the same problems...

    • by Mark Hood (1630)

      Actually the channel 4 item doesn't mention botched redactions - they're talking about the parts of the document you can read.

      They even say:
      "UK submarines compare poorly with these benchmarks, with the ability to tolerate only a structural failure equivalent to a..." Unfortunately the rest of the sentence, along with most of the following two pages, are blacked out in the released document.

      So it was the Daily Star who tried the old trick of copy-paste and got lucky.

  • Now everyone's going to have one! Oh well, nothing for it but to start building a nuclear sub in my basement. I'm glad I kept all those old coffee cans around...
  • Better BBC link (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The Daily Star doesn't cost very much in the UK because they don't need to pay for clothes for some of the models.

    Here's the BBC link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13107413.

    Apparently something to do with blacking out parts of a report but the text still being there when you paste it into another document.

    • The Daily Star doesn't cost very much in the UK because they don't need to pay for clothes for some of the models.

      Funny, that's never worked for any woman that I knew....

  • by introcept (1381101) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @07:01AM (#35846630)

    The problem is using programs that advertise themselves as WYSWYG editors when in fact they're not.

    Now it's unreasonable to expect the every computer-literate but non-expert user to understand the data format, encoding and specific behaviour of every document editor. The blame here rests solely on the management that should have trained users how to manipulate sensitive documents using approved tools.

  • RTFD (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 17, 2011 @07:07AM (#35846644)

    Have you actually LOOKED at the document?

    Its original classification was "RESTRICTED - UK EYES ONLY" which is basically a rather quaint old fashioned form of "UK RESTRICTED".

    RESTRICTED is the lowest level that requires any special handling to speak of. We would tend to assume that foreign intelligence agencies already have everything that is RESTRICTED.

    CONFIDENTIAL is the lowest level at which any serious effort is taken to prevent FISs getting hold of the information, and then exponentially more protective measures are taken as one moves through SECRET and TOP SECRET.

    So whilst embarrassing, it doesn't contain anything that any halfway competent FIS would not have already been aware.

    Move on, nothing to see here....

    • That said, the person releasing it is still liable for 30+ years in jail for a breach of the official secrets act.

    • by Kagura (843695)
      Interesting, you are indeed correct that "Restricted" is a level underneath "Confidential". In the U.S., "Restricted" is used for secrets relating to nuclear weapons design and production and is obviously taken very seriously.
    • by 2sheds (78194)
      As Bernard Woolley put it in Yes Prime Minister [sharetv.org] - "That's one of those irregular verbs, isn't it? *I* give confidential security briefings. *You* leak. *He* has been charged under section 2a of the Official Secrets Act."
  • The Conqueror fired first.

  • Sounds like someone will soon be transferred to clean radar dishes in Antarctica.

  • I think these nuclear subs are well worth the expense. How else will Britain deal with Taliban aircraft carriers?

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