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How the NSA ‘leaker’ was tracked down using a printer

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ve probably heard of allegations that Russian actors tampered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In fact, an online news outlet recently published an article dealing with a leaked, classified NSA document. The document detailed Russian hacking efforts on U.S. voting systems the week before the election.

It only took about an hour after the classified document was published for the Justice Department to announce charges against the person that leaked it. You’re going to be amazed at how U.S. officials were able to track down the leaker.

How the U.S. government discovered classified document leaker’s identity

The news outlet that received the top secret documents contacted a U.S. intelligence agency to inform it of the upcoming story. The news outlet then provided the agency with a copy of the documents.

According to a blog on Errata Security, “most new printers print nearly [invisible] yellow dots that track down exactly when and where documents, any document, is printed. Because the NSA logs all printing jobs on its printers, it can use this to match up precisely who printed the document.”

Image: Example of yellow tracking dots from the printer. (Source: Errata Security)

The FBI was able to use this technology to track down the leaker, identified as Reality Leigh Winner. She is a 25-year-old security contractor assigned to a U.S. government agency facility in Georgia. Winner has had top security clearance since the time she was hired earlier this year.

The arrest warrant for Winner details how the U.S. government pinpointed her identity:

“The U.S. Government Agency examined the document shared by the News Outlet and determined the pages of the intelligence reporting appeared to be folded and/or creased, suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space.

“The U.S. Government Agency conducted an internal audit to determine who accessed the intelligence reporting since its publication. The U.S. Government Agency determined that six individuals printed this reporting. Winner was one of these six individuals.

“A further audit of the six individuals’ desk computers revealed that Winner had e-mail contact with the News Outlet. The audit did not reveal that any of the other individuals had e-mail contact with the News Outlet.”

The FBI followed up by calling Winner at her home to question her. According to an FBI special agent, Winner admitted to both printing the classified document and mailing it to the news outlet in question.

She was arrested later at her home by the FBI. Winner faces a charge of “gathering, transmitting or losing defense information.”

It’s pretty creepy when you think about the fact that everything you print can be traced back to you. That’s why it’s extremely important to properly handle your documents.

You don’t want them getting into the wrong hands. It’s a good idea to shred all of the documents that you have printed when you no longer need them. As they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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