Fear of blackmail after RAF loses sensitive personal data

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Highly personal information about senior officers of the Royal Air Force (RAF) – including details of extra-marital affairs, debt, drug abuse, and the use of prostitutes – is alleged to be amongst the data lost from a base in Innsworth, Gloucestershire.

When I originally reported on the stolen USB drives last September, it was suggested that the information stolen had been names, service numbers, addresses and dates of birth.

Now it seems secrets of a much more sensitive nature were also lost.

Why does the RAF have such information? Because before staff are allowed access to highly sensitive information they are put through a gruelling vetting procedure – to see if they have any skeletons in their cupboards which others may use for blackmail purposes.

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A former serving officer in the RAF, who uncovered the memo after reportedly worrying about his own data being lost told the BBC, “They’d ask you questions such as: is there anything unusual about your sex life? Have you had affairs? Used prostitutes? That sort of thing. If the information got into the wrong hands then it could leave people wide open.”

An internal email from an unnamed wing commander, seen by the media, says that the lost data “provides excellent material for Foreign Intelligence Services, investigative journalists and blackmailers”.

The fact that the RAF did not reveal that vetting data had also been lost has lead some to suggest a cover-up has occurred to save the force’s embarrassment. For its part, the RAF is keen to stress that there is no indication that the data has fallen into hostile hands.

Of course, this would probably hardly be a story if the RAF had taken the sensible step in the first place of ensuring that this information was properly and securely encrypted – thus making the lost drives as useful to potential blackmailers as handlebars on a surfboard.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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