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FBI Investigating Mystery Laptops Sent To US Governors 329

Posted by timothy
from the send-a-few-to-me dept.
itwbennett writes "The FBI is trying to find out who is sending laptops to state governors across the US, including the governors of Wyoming and West Virginia. The West Virginia laptops were delivered to the governor's office on August 5, according to the Charleston Gazette, which first reported the story. Kyle Schafer, West Virginia's chief technology officer, says he doesn't know what's on the laptops, but he handed them over to the authorities. 'Our expectation is that this is not a gesture of good will,' he said. 'People don't just send you five laptops for no good reason.'"
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FBI Investigating Mystery Laptops Sent to US Governors

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  • by snl2587 (1177409) on Friday August 28, 2009 @08:03AM (#29229061)

    I'll take them.

    Seriously, they don't have one good tech guy who could wipe the drives/check the internals for rogue hardware?

  • by Skinkie (815924) on Friday August 28, 2009 @08:03AM (#29229069) Homepage least give every incoming laptop to a nearby school. I mean, spying on students happens already anyway.
  • by damburger (981828) on Friday August 28, 2009 @08:07AM (#29229093)

    You get the laptops delivered to a big enough organisation, whoever signs for them assumes *somebody* ordered them for a reason, but can't find out who. So they stash them somewhere. Fast forwards to when someone new joins the organisation and needs a laptop, somebody mentions there are a couple lying around in boxes and bingo, you've got malware in through the front door without touching an Internet connection.

    Makes me wonder, how often this has been done successfully to less vigilant offices, worked, and we haven't heard about it.

  • by 1s44c (552956) on Friday August 28, 2009 @08:12AM (#29229123)

    Seriously, they don't have one good tech guy who could wipe the drives/check the internals for rogue hardware?

    Not at a cost less than the price of one new laptop. Smart hardware people with time to prepare could hide just about any device just about anywhere. Or hide nothing at all just so people waste time looking for what isn't there.

    I get the impression this is just a prank by someone with a little too much free cash and a bad sense of humor. Either that or a marketing thing by a laptop manufacturer.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 28, 2009 @08:20AM (#29229189)

    fedex sleeping laptop
    wake at delivery time
    run superduper wi-fi haxor proggy
    phone home

  • Hacked hardware? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tsvk (624784) on Friday August 28, 2009 @08:20AM (#29229191)
    Since the origin of the computers is unknown, the hardware cannot be trusted. The computers might be hacked and backdoored on the BIOS level. Modern BIOSes are quite sophisticated with a rich functionality, that can be misused invisibly from the OS' point of view.
  • 2 democrats (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Friday August 28, 2009 @08:21AM (#29229197) Journal
    I wonder if the others are dems? Perhaps it is time to check the keys themselves and see what is on them
  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Friday August 28, 2009 @08:28AM (#29229259)

    That's an expensive hack! Especially when the typical methods are practically free. I wonder how effective it is.

    You know, it might be cheaper to just "accidentally" drop usb drives near the office or, if you're not targeting a particular office specifically, leave the drives in coffee shops and local restaurants. Someone takes it home and tries looking at it, pwnage.

  • by scheuri (655355) on Friday August 28, 2009 @08:32AM (#29229291)
    That is what I thought first, too. Well, I still think it is a very interesting angle on social engineering as you put it.

    However, if you do that with a large enough company to get "undetected" (assuming smaller companies would recognise something fishy is going on) there should be a large risk that this laptop goes to the IT-people first to get completely altered to companies standards.
    That usually should mean complete format and using an image of whatever the company is using as client OS. So there goes your malware (at least most of it).

    So I am very confident that this has to be taken into account.
  • by jlmale0 (1087135) on Friday August 28, 2009 @08:44AM (#29229375)
    The article notes that the seized laptops were part of an order that shipped to 10 offices; all have been tracked down. Still, you're right, we don't know about other orders. I think it's a brilliant idea, the free laptops. If it's a software only attack, they have to be wary of those departments that reimage PCs to standard images.
  • by charliebear (887653) on Friday August 28, 2009 @08:53AM (#29229473)
    A likely explanation is that somebody either stole a credit card or cards or somehow ordered them fraudulently and is using this as a smokescreen. Send 10 laptops to 10 governors. Send 10 to random people including yourself. Profit! Or else an employee at one of the offices is in on it and wanted to cover themselves by sending them out to other offices.
  • by Cassini2 (956052) on Friday August 28, 2009 @09:12AM (#29229687)

    Go for the obvious. Someone is trying to get revenge on corporation "x" by purchasing a bunch of computers and having them drop shipped. By the time accounting catches up with the paperwork, the computers will be in the hands of the FBI for a month. If the scam is done right, it is done by an ex-employee or someone with just enough access to know who the preferred suppliers are. You make a couple of phone calls, send the right paperwork, and next thing your computer vendor is drop shipping a bunch of computers somewhere.

    Having worked for distributors, I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often. Having stuff go missing for weeks on end inside factories, fairly routine ... This wouldn't be hard to do. Just ship a bunch of computers somewhere else.

    It is even difficult to get charged for doing something like this. FAXing the paperwork leaves no fingerprints. To the accounting department, the transaction looks like typical incompetence. The corporation won't request charges laid, because then they would have to admit they were incompetent too, and this stuff happens all the time. The police have a tough time charging you, because you didn't steal anything. If done right, you didn't even touch anything so there is no physical evidence. No evidence means no crime, and your revenge makes the national newspapers. Perfect revenge scheme.

  • by Corporate Troll (537873) on Friday August 28, 2009 @09:13AM (#29229695) Homepage Journal

    They could use the same CD autorun thing that the U3 malware uses.

    Offtopic, but does anyone know how to remove the U3 "feature" using Linux? I heard there are Win32 removal tools, but I don't trust removal tools from people who actually invented U3...

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Friday August 28, 2009 @09:50AM (#29230155) Homepage Journal

    Really? They why state governors? They really don't have a lot of access to secret stuff. My guess is a little more amusing. Someone has figured out how to hack into HPs GSA ordering system and is pranking them. They are basically ordering laptops on the states dime from HP just to see if anyone notices. Sort of like ordering Pizzicati to be set to buddy's house as a joke. The difference is this is going to be a federal offense.

  • by vertinox (846076) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:10AM (#29230395)

    You get the laptops delivered to a big enough organisation, whoever signs for them assumes *somebody* ordered them for a reason, but can't find out who.

    Hehe. I worked for a large company where on more than one occasion someone just sends their laptop in to the workshop only to be lost in the stack because they didn't put a ticket number on it. It wasn't stolen but rather just with all the other laptops in a pile and was basically unlocatable for a few months.

    Secondly, the purchasing approval process sometimes takes a while so by the time someone gets their laptop purchase approved they might no longer be with the company.

  • by geekgirlandrea (1148779) <> on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:02AM (#29231083) Homepage
    How would you know if it's listening? It doesn't have to be software tampering. All it would take is a counterfeit ethernet chip that recognizes some magic number in a packet, maybe sends out some really innocuous-looking packet once in a while as a location beacon (make some known DNS query or something), and then does DMA into the host's memory on command. Nothing unusual at all in the traffic except some ordinary-looking location signal, until its owner starts using it as a hardware rootkit.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:23PM (#29232235)
    I work in West Virginia state government and this came up at yesterdays staff meeting. According to the boss (not PHB) they've found that laptops had been purchased with stolen credit cards and came loaded with malware. Also some of the laptops received in other states had actually been used.
  • by jamstar7 (694492) on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:27PM (#29232315)
    Coal in West Virginia, oil shale in Wyoming. Not sure what energy related resource is in Vermont tho.

Whenever people agree with me, I always think I must be wrong. - Oscar Wilde