Nuclear weapons lab loses disks

The Los Alamos National Laboratory, the USA's foremost nuclear weapon design facility, has lost a computer disk.

According to a lab statement, staff were checking an inventory of classified material and realised a piece of classified removable electronic media (CREM) was not where it was supposed to be. The lab says that the missing CREM, which could be a CD, USB flash drive or Zip-type disk, "in no way constitutes a compromise of national security".

Since the disk is missing, its contents cannot be verified. The statement admits to "administrative errors and the past pervasive use of low-density magnetic and desktop systems."

Previous lost disk incidents at Los Alamos include:-

  • A January, 2003, incident of hard drive loss
  • In mid-2000, two hard drives were lost and then found behind a copier
  • In the autumn of 2002, the Lab said more than 200 computers were missing but denied that they contained classified data.

If anybody has the missing disks they could read classified information about America's nuclear weapons. The total amount of CREM at Los Alamos is being reduced in a Lab program and 50,000 items have been destroyed since December 2003, a reduction of 60 percent.

The Lab is hoping to move to a media-less desktop environment as part of a US Department of Energy security initiative announced by the US DoE Secretary, Spenser Abraham, in May, 2004. The initiative's plan states: "In five years, desktop weapons design functions can be performed in a diskless environment. At that point, no insider would be able to transport classified data in electronic form outside the site on physical media." All classified data would be stored on secured servers.

Server storage encryption technologyexists and Microsoft's Windows XP can encrypt desktop files. However, relying on users to encrypt files is probably less secure than moving to diskless desktops.

This story, "Nuclear weapons lab loses disks" was originally published by

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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