Mossad laptop hack behind nuclear strike, reports suggest

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Expert cites hotel maid attack.

Reports in Der Spiegel suggest that the Israeli air strike against claimed nuclear facilities in Syria were targeted after Mossad successfully hacked a laptop left in a London hotel bedroom.

The report says that in late 2006 a senior Syrian diplomat staying in London left his laptop unattended in an London hotel, giving Mossad the chance to install a trojan on the computer that allowed communications to be monitored.

On September 6 the next year, the Israeli air force carried out a strike on the Syrian Al Kabir complex in the east of the country. Syrian government media gave little details of the attack, other than to say that Israeli aircraft had dropped munitions on an empty portion of the country before being seen off by local air defences.

In 2008, the International Atomic Energy Agency analysed soil at Al Kabir and found it contained uranium elements not included in Syria's nuclear inventory. Sources in Syria suggest the material was dropped by Israeli planes to justify the attack.

Security expert Bruce Schneier highlighted the case in his blog, saying it was similar to an attack carried out in 2009 where an outside party could install malware on a separate bootloader segment on the hard drive so that it would access any files, even if encrypted. He calls it the 'evil maid' attack.

“Remember the evil maid attack: if an attacker gets hold of your computer temporarily, he can bypass your encryption software,” he said.

The physical security of laptop computers is an increasing important issue for those travelling abroad. The US government has warned visitors to China to keep their laptops under constant surveillance while in the country.

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