A major drugs-busting operation in Columbia had to be called off after an MI6 agent left a top secret USB drive on a bus, it emerged this week.
The blunder, by a female agent known only as ‘T’, left a multi-million pound investigation in tatters and put officers and informants – whose details were stored on the the unsecured USB stick – at risk of retaliation by drugs barons.
So serious was the security breach that all agents mentioned on the memory stick were relocated.
Although the drive was lost in 2006, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) only revealed the mistake this week.
Security experts said if MI6 had taken the simple step of encrypting data on the USB drive, the investigation would not have been compromised.
“If the data had been encrypted [MI6’s] reaction would not have been necessary,” said Michael Callahan, senior vice president of IT security firm Credant.
Nick Lowe, spokesperson for data security firm Check Point, added: “This simple act of forgetfulness with unencrypted data caused huge problems and costs for the intelligence community.”
Callahan concluded: “It’s a great shame to see the UK Security Service embarrassed by a single data leak incident.”
Soca said its data handling procedures have been updated since the USB stick was lost.