Heathrow Airport launching a probe after a USB was found

Heathrow Airport officials have launched an official probe after a USB key with security files was allegedly found on a London street, the Mirror reported on Sunday. The story was picked up by CNN afterwards.

The USB apparently contained details such as the route the Queen takes when using the airport, maps of CCTV cameras, and a network of tunnels and escape routes.

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The USB stick, containing 76 folders with maps, videos, and images, was given to a newspaper, the Sunday mirror, instead of the Police.

An unemployed man, who found the USB stick, plugged it into a library computer and was alarmed at what he saw, the Mirror reported. It revealed:

  • The exact route the Queen takes when using Heathrow airport and security measures used to protect her.
  • Files disclosing every type of ID needed – even those used by covert cops – to access restricted areas.
  • A timetable of patrols that was used to guard the site against suicide bombers and terror attacks.
  • Maps pinpointing CCTV cameras and a network of tunnels and escape shafts linked to the Heathrow Express.
  • Routes and safeguards for Cabinet ministers and foreign dignitaries.
    Details of the ultrasound radar system used to scan runways and the perimeter fence.

A security source to the Mirror: “In the wrong hands this would represent a profound threat in terms of terrorism or espionage.

“Aviation security is under the microscope because of the desire by terrorists to bring planes down in a spectacular fashion. Security services would not want this leaked or sold to hostile parties.”

Police fear that the files has been copied and circulated on the “dark web” as the level of details could’ve taken years to collect and compile.

A police source said: “The fear is that this information could have been downloaded and disseminated God knows where.”

“The worry is it ends up on the dark web and used by bad guys to pick holes in airport security.”

A former counter-terrorism chief who specializes in airport security told the Sunday Mirror: “There are serious questions to be answered.

“Why was this sensitive material held on an unencrypted memory stick and taken off site? It’s a huge security breach and massively embarrassing for those in charge of security.

“Knowing certain aspects of this ­information may make it easier for potential attackers to avoid detection.

“And the cumulative impact of having so many documents, videos, maps and images all in one place represents a security risk.”

A spokesman for the airport said: “Heathrow’s top priority is the safety and security of our passengers and colleagues.

“The UK and Heathrow have some of the most robust aviation ­security measures in the world and we remain vigilant to evolving threats by updating our procedures on a daily basis.

“We have reviewed all of our security plans and are confident that Heathrow remains secure.”

“We have also launched an internal investigation to understand how this happened and are taking steps to prevent a similar occurrence in future.”

Security News Analysis

It is still early to analyze what exactly happened, but if YOU do find a USB key somewhere in public, do not plug it in to any computer as it may contain viruses. And if you find a USB at work, take it right away to the company’s security office.

As a somehow related reminder, if you receive an email that doesn’t feel right, even if it looks like it is coming from someone you trust, think twice about clicking links; otherwise, you will face the same situation Pizza Hut customers recently faced.


Mohamad El Hout, MBA, M.Eng., CISSP

Mohamad is an entrepreneur and a Senior Security Consultant dealing with the design and delivery of standard and complex security gateway solutions, covering a wide range of cutting edge technologies. His interests include business, technology, leadership, sports, and the continuous pursuit of knowledge.

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