Canadian military investigating after hard drive found at recycling depot

The Canadian military says it's examining a hard drive that a Halifax man found at a recycling depot about a year ago to see if it contains sensitive information.

Halifax man says he found the hard drive about a year ago

A Halifax man says he recovers data from old hard drives as a hobby and noticed something unusual about one he found about a year ago. (Canadian Press)

A 30-gigabyte hard drive found at a recycling depot that a Halifax man says contains personal information including the names and numbers of defence personnel has been taken by the military. 

Pete Stevens, who works in the electronics industry, said he found the hard drive about a year ago at a recycling depot and suspected that it previously belonged to the military after running recovery software.

He said he recently decided to sift through the hundreds of files after hearing about security breaches at the military's East Coast intelligence centre and Canadian Forces Base Halifax.

Stevens said he recovered about 10 G of data from the 30 G hard drive, including 6,000 photos, spreadsheets with the names and numbers of military personnel and their families, and completed applications for security clearance. 

"If that was me, I wouldn't want somebody like me having that information," said Stevens in a phone interview on Saturday. "I don't think we want to see any of our people serving in uniform exposed like that."

Suspected 3 years worth of files

Stevens said military officials came to retrieve the hard drive on Friday. 

Military spokesman Maj. Martell Thompson said investigators are assessing the nature of the data on the hard drive. 

He said the incident is "highly unusual." Protocols implemented in 2008 require hard drives to be destroyed once they are no longer operational, he said. 

Pete Stevens stumbled upon a 30-gigabyte hard drive containing personal information of defence personnel at a recycling depot in Halifax last year 4:48

"I've not heard of something like this happening before," said Thompson on Saturday.

"The Department of National Defence policy dictates that once hard drives are life-cycled out of operation, they are removed from Canadian Armed Forces networks and sorted prior to destruction."

Stevens said the files on the hard drive appear to be from the years 1999 to 2005. 

Recent security breaches

He said he used basic software to recover the files and predicts he got about half the information on the hard drive. He said recovering personal information from discarded hard drives is not uncommon, but he was surprised and concerned in this case because of the nature of the information. 

"Obviously you don't normally come across things like this. I was definitely surprised to see what I saw," said Stevens, who says he recovers data from old hard drives as a hobby.

In addition to personal information, he told CBC News that it also contained Power Point presentations, blueprints of ships and documents outlining "specified procedures for certain scenarios."
Last week Rear Admiral John Newton confirmed there were five breaches of a secure military computer network at Canadian Forces Base Halifax. (CBC)

"I have friends and family members in the Forces so I think I speak for most Canadians when I say we don't want to see them exposed, especially their information and their addresses and their phone numbers and everything," he said.

Rear Admiral John Newton confirmed earlier last week there were five "non-nefarious breaches" of a secure military computer network at Canadian Forces Base Halifax's navy training school.

The news came days after a larger breach of information at HMCS Trinity, the military's East Coast intelligence centre, was made public. 

Newton said the breaches were found after the navy began security scans of its system in September.

To avoid such breaches in the future, Stevens suggests the military encrypt its hard drives, run data-scrubbing software and — just to be safe — drill three to four holes in the drive to destroy the devices.

With files from CBC News

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