Reality Winner pleads guilty after being unmasked by microdots

Government contractor leaked top secret documents about Russian hacking.

Graham Cluley
@gcluley

Reality Winner, the US government contractor who leaked top secret documents to a news website, has pleaded guilty to charges of unlawful retention and dissemination of national defence information.

26-year-old Winner faces more than five years in prison after sharing information with The Intercept about Russian hackers attempting to influence the 2016 US Presidential election.

As we’ve previously discussed, it appears that Winner was unmasked after The Intercept sent a scan of the leaked documents to the NSA.

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Unfortunately for the former government contractor, the NSA logs its print jobs and – as with most modern printers – nearly invisible microdots are included on printed documents to make it easier for law enforcement to trace their origin.

Source: Errata Security

Ironically, as The Register reports, just last week German researchers published their findings in how these tracking dots on print outs can be obfuscated.

Before Winner will be sentenced at a later date, pending reports requested by Judge Randall Hall. Reality Winner told the judge that she takes medication for depression, and suffers from an eating disorder.

For more discussion on this case, check out the “Smashing Security” podcast we issued at the time of Reality Winner’s arrest:

Smashing Security #024: 'Reality Winner, Gordon Ramsay and a leaky bucket'

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Graham Cluley is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s when he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and is an international public speaker on the topic of computer security, hackers, and online privacy. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley, or drop him an email.

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