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Security: Hack of U.S. Border Control Contractor Is Way Bigger Than the Government Is Letting On

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Security: Department of Homeland Security police gather at a press conference in Philadelphia following a $1 billion drug bust by Customs and Border Protection agents.
Department of Homeland Security police gather at a press conference in Philadelphia following a $1 billion drug bust by Customs and Border Protection agents.
Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Getty

Even as Homeland Security officials have attempted to downplay the impact of a security intrusion that reached deep into the network of a federal surveillance contractor, secret documents, handbooks, and slides concerning surveillance technology deployed along U.S. borders are being widely and openly shared online.

A terabyte of torrents seeded by Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDOS)—journalists dispersing records that governments and corporations would rather nobody read—are as of writing being downloaded daily. As of this week, that includes more than 400 GB of data stolen by an unknown actor from Perceptics, a discreet contractor based in Knoxville, Tennessee, that works for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and is, regardless of whatever U.S. officials say, right now the epicenter of a major U.S. government data breach.

The files include powerpoint presentations, manuals, marketing materials, budgets, equipment lists, schematics, passwords, and other documents detailing Perceptics’ work for CBP and other government agencies for nearly a decade. Tens of thousands of surveillance photographs taken of travelers and their vehicles at the U.S. border are among the first tranches of data to be released. Reporters are digging through the dump and already expanding our understanding of the enormous surveillance apparatus that is being erected on our border.

In a statement last week, CBP insisted that none of the image data had been identified online, even as one headline declared, “Here Are Images of Drivers Hacked From a U.S. Border Protection Contractor.”

“The breach covers a huge amount of data which has, until now, been protected by dozens of Non-Disclosure Agreements and the (b)(4) trade-secrets exemption which Perceptics has demanded DHS apply to all Perceptics information,” DDOS team member Emma Best, who often reports for the Freedom of Information site MuckRock, told Gizmodo.

(Best has also contributed reporting on WikiLeaks for Gizmodo.)

Despite the government’s attempt to downplay the breach, the Perceptics files, she said, “include schematics, plans, and reports for DHS, the DEA, and the Pentagon as well as foreign clients.”

While the files can be viewed online, according to Best, DDOS has experienced nearly a 50 percent spike in traffic from users who’ve opted to download the entire dataset.

“We’re making these files available for public review because they provide an unprecedented and intimate look at the mass surveillance of legal travel, as well as more local surveillance of turnpike and secure facilities,” Best said. “Most importantly they provide a glimpse of how the gov

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