Noroff prof. Iain Sutherland has found highly sensitive U.S. military data, including test launch procedures, in used hard drive purchased online.

(Image: THAAD missile air system. © Lockheed Martin.)

Prof. Iain Sutherland

The hard drive that research team including professor Sutherland found, containing the highly sensitive details of the US military missile air defence system, was a second-hand hard drive purchased online from ebay. The disc was purchased as part of a research project, where the research team attempts to recover lost information.

One spesific hard drive contained the test launch procedures for the THAAD missile air system.

According to the Missile Defense Agensy, of The U.S. Department of Defense, this Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system "provides the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) with a globally transportable, rapidly deployable capability to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles inside or outside the atmosphere during their final, or terminal, phase of flight."

This system was used to shoot down missiles in Iraq.

The finding were part of an ongoing research project, which will be repeated in the near future. Read the full study from 2009 here.

New studies in digital forensics

Now, Professor Sutherland works at Noroff University College which offers a Bachelor's degree in Digital Forensics. The need for expertise in this area has increased dramatically in recent years in pace with new communication channels. Professor Sutherland from Wales is leading the courses, leading to a Bachelor's degree. Sutherland, who has previously found military secrets, patient records and social security numbers in used hard drives purchased online, is now educating digital investigators in Norway.

We have discovered secret intelligence information from the U.S. military, design plans for a new type of car, and sensitive information about where an Australian mining company kept its explosives. Prof. Iain Sutherland

One of the best in the world in his field

Sutherland has for many years worked closely with local and national police divisions in the UK linked to everything from murder investigations, theft and hacker attacks. He has also assisted businesses to find and restore lost information. Sutherland moved from Wales to Kristiansand in April 2012 to lead Noroff's new courses in digital forensics.

Surveys show low knowledge and poor security practices

Sutherland, who comes from a position as professor at the University of South Wales, has during the last five years conducted a study where experts analyze old hard drives to be discarded. The discoveries are alarming: - Many believe that the content of a hard drive is automatically deleted when you empty your PC's trash can, but that is not the case. These data can quickly and easily be retrieved by using techniques that are available on the internet. During our previous studies we have, in collaboration with Edith Cowen University in Australia and America, discovered secret intelligence information from the U.S. military, design plans for a new type of car, and sensitive information about where an Australian mining company kept its explosives, Sutherland says.

Norway included in the survey in 2012

Many believe that the content of a hard drive is automatically deleted when you empty your PC's trash can, but that is not the case. Prof. Iain Sutherland

This is the first time that Norway is included in the study of discarded hard drives. - Norway has come a long way in digital forensics, but the online landscape evolves so quickly that many more people with this expertise are needed. The cooperation between Noroff and The University of South Wales has already resulted in two full-time digital detectives at the Bergen Police Headquarters. - Noroff has chosen an innovative way of thinking concerning education and I look forward to beeing part of it, says Sutherland.

New communication channels

Businesses and organizations have to deal with an increasing number of channels for data traffic. In addition to traditional computers, smart phones, game consoles and televisions with internet access are everyday tools for many. The consequence of this rapid technological development is that many industry players are struggling to keep up regarding IT security. At the same time, electronic tracking has become increasingly important in a police investigation context. - The rapid technological changes have created a need for expertise in IT security. The timing of our new college studies could hardly be better, says principal of Noroff University College, Harald Holt.

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