Those Russky superspies they busted? Turns out they were total IT noobs, and their helpdesk was staffed by a grumpy bastard who just kept repeating, "Have you turned it off and on again?"
The spy ring had numerous technical problems, including file transfers that hung and wouldn't go through and difficulty replacing laptops when necessary. In one case, an agent was so frustrated by laptop issues that she unwittingly turned it over to an undercover FBI agent.
In another case, replacing a laptop took more than two months. A suspect bought an Asus Eee PC 1005HA-P netbook, flew with it to Rome, picked up a passport in another name, flew on to Moscow and returned with it -- a process that took from January this year to March. Presumably Moscow headquarters configured the device.
When the courier spy delivered it to another suspect, he described what to do if the laptop had problems. "...if this doesn't work we can meet again in six months," one suspect was overheard saying to another, "they don't understand what we go through over here."
Pironti says spies try to use off-the-shelf hardware and software so they don't have to rely on their spymasters for replacements, and with the possible exception of the steganography application, this ring could have done that.
One of the technical issues the ring faced was described by one suspect in a message to Moscow reporting on a meeting between two spies "A" and "M": "Meeting with M went as planned ... A passed to M laptop, two flash drives, and $9K in cash. From what M described, the problem with his equipment is due to his laptop "hanging"/"freezing" before completion of the normal program run."
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