Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tangled web woven at Boston City Hall

The saga continues at Boston City Hall. Readers of this blog will remember that in response to public record requests, it came out that the Boston Mayor's right-hand man was deleting emails in a way that they were not getting backed up. So the Secretary of State got involved and ordered the City Hall to change the practice and also to retrieve the emails.

Today it came out that our international man of mystery actually complained in April 2009 that his computer was running too slow and as a result, received a new computer. But gosh darn, he plum forgot! And he still does not remember getting a new computer.
City corporation counsel William F. Sinnott said in an interview yesterday that he had been relying on what Kineavy had told him and that Kineavy, the mayor’s chief policy aide and key political strategist, still does not remember getting a new computer.
Fortunately for people who like sunshine on their government affairs, and possibly unfortunately for Mr. Kineavy, that computer's hard disk was not wiped clean and reissued to another user--it was just sitting in another room. Now it has gone to the forensics firm hired by the City, and presumably the emails (or their remnants from temp files) will be recovered.

Ironically, I bet that this particular PC was not recycled because the user was a powerful man, and IT suspected/feared that he will ask for some old file from the hard disk that was not accurately transferred to the new PC.

Now to the cost of recovery. The most well-known commercial software used for digital forensics, Encase (there are others), will suck out anything relevant form that disk in a few hours and nicely categorize them in emails, word documents, etc.

One might even call the work technologically trivial. If StoneTurn group is really asking for 250K for a single hard disk examination, they are either smoking weed, or abusing a single-source, no-bid contract. I know many highly reputable forensics consultants who will do this for under $10,000, probably for as low as $5,000.

There are some good lessons here.
  • Mr. Kineavy is every information security officer's dream. That man knows how to protect against information leakage
  • Mr. Kineavy is every compliance officer's nightmare. That man is costing the City Hall time, money and prestige
  • Not having a good decommissioning policy is hurting Mr. Kiveavy but may help make the City Hall become compliant with the public records law (or at least get away with a slap on the wrist and the hundreds of thousands of dollars in forensics expense)
Bottom line: the wheels of justice grinds slowly, but once caught in its maw, there is often no escape