Those with security clearance are capable of making foolish mistakes, just like the rest of us. So is the story of how a Dutch journalist made an appearance on video meeting of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council (Dutch language, Google Translate link).
Like any other video call, if you had the link you could enter the meeting. So when Netherlands Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld Tweeted a photo of a video call last Friday, the address bar of the browser gave away the secret to anyone with a keen eye. Dutch journalist Daniël Verlaan working for the broadcaster RTL saw the URL on the screen and deduced the login credentials for the meeting.
We say “deduced”, but in fact there were five of the six digits in the PIN in the clear in the URL, leaving him with the difficult task of performing a one-digit brute-force attack and joining with the username “admin”. He joined and revealed his presence, then was admonished for committing a criminal offence before he left.
On one level it’s an opportunity for a good laugh at the expense of the defence ministers, and we certainly wouldn’t want to be Ank Bijleveld or probably the EU’s online security people once the inevitable investigation into this gets under way. It seems scarcely credible that the secrecy on such a high-security meeting could have sat upon such a shaky foundation without for example some form of two-factor authentication using the kind of hardware available only to governments.
EU policy is decided not by individual ministries but by delicate round-table summits of all 27 countries. In a pandemic these have shifted to being half-online and half in-real-life, so this EU defence ministers’ meeting had the usual mosaic video feed of politicians and national flags. And one Zoom-bombing journalist.