The Communications Security Establishment sold 5 computer hard drives containing encrypted data at a surplus auction.
In 2014, Canada’s foreign security agency sold 56 Sun Microsystem computers, processor cards, keyboards, other equipment for $1,646 at a Canadian government surplus auction site. However, not all of the hard drives were erased before the sale. The error was only discovered when the buyer reported the incident to his own MP.
The security failure was made public through an access to information investigation by Blacklock’s Reporter. Government agencies withheld documents for four years.
Managers the Department of Public Works took 2 years to admit the hard drives were not only sold at auction for pennies on the dollar but also contained top-secret information. The security breach was divulged only after the new owner of the computer equipment called Public Works several times to report the error.
Managers only admitted the blunder after they were forced to when the Sturgeon Falls, Ontario buyer of the government surplus eventually complained to his local Liberal MP Marc Serre.
Blacklock’s Reporter obtained internal correspondence from Serre’s office and Public Works bureaucrats:
“I have a case with a constituent in our riding which involves some hard drives that were purchased from GC Surplus on March 12, 2014,”
“My constituent purchased 56 hard drives. However, after further investigation, he tells me there is still some encrypted government data on at least five them.”
I’ve contacted the original salesman, Simon Villemaire, who has told me this situation is impossible as all hard drives were wiped clean,”
“However my constituent is adamant there is still a great deal of information on them and would like to know what to do with them. He is worried that if he sells the equipment in its current condition information could be leaked and he is hesitant to erase the information without a proper inquiry.”
The letter from Serre’s office led to an offer by Public Works to the buyer to repurchase the 56 hard drives for $13,560 - a 700% mark-up from the original sale price.
Public Works no longer sells surplus government computers.