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High-Tech Espionage Helped Alleged Russian Spies

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June 28: A court drawing shows five of the 11 alleged spies in a New York court appearance following their arrests (AFP).

High-tech espionage is alive and well.

According to documents released Monday in the case of 11 Russians accused of spying in the U.S., cold-war era spying is dead. The modern spy is a Jason-Bourne style stealth agent who relies on tech to uncover secrets. 

According to a story on CNET, the court papers made public by the Justice Department (PDF and PDF) show that the group used private wireless networks to transmit files, passed data on USB memory sticks and sent text messages -- all protected and encrypted with custom-written "steganographic" software, which let them hide secret messages in otherwise innocent-looking files. 

Defendant Anna Chapman reportedly brought her laptop to a Manhattan coffee shop and transferred data with a Russian government official -- who drove by in a minivan but never entered the store. Chapman also allegedly opened her laptop while in a bookstore in lower Manhattan and used a private Wi-Fi network to communicate with the same Russian official.

"Law-enforcement agents observed and forensically copied a set of computer disks" when searching some of the defendants' residences, according to a statement from FBI agent Maria Ricci. "Based on subsequent investigation ... I believe that the password-protected disks contain a steganography program employed by the SVR and the Illegals." SVR stands for Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, Russia's foreign intelligence agency and the successor to the foreign operations arm of the KGB.

Ricci said the steganographic program was activated by pressing control-alt-E and then typing in a 27-character password, which the FBI found written down on a piece of paper during one of its searches.

The practice of steganography has a distinguished history: the Greek historian Herodotus describes how one of his countrymen sent a secret message warning of an invasion by scrawling it on the wood underneath a wax tablet. To casual observers, the tablet appeared blank.

For more, read the full story on CNET.