Details of Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission security breach unexplained

Key to understanding the bugging scandal is to comprehend nature of alleged breach

Simon O’Brien, chairman of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, leaving the meeting with the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter at the Department of Justice on Monday.  Photograph: Eric Luke

Simon O’Brien, chairman of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, leaving the meeting with the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter at the Department of Justice on Monday. Photograph: Eric Luke

Wed, Feb 12, 2014, 01:00

Key to understanding the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) bugging scandal is to comprehend the nature of the alleged breach and how it was achieved.

The text of GSOC’s report should be in the public domain. For it is only then that some sense can be made of this entire episode.

According to GSOC-related statements in the Dáil yesterday, following a security audit by an English security company, there was no evidence of bugging. Instead “anomalies” were discovered during the audit.

GSOC previously seemed to suggest that there had been security breaches in the cyber or online area. This means that somebody was able to record the keystrokes of those using computers inside the office via GSOC’s wifi system.

What about the issue of the phones? Were they tampered with? If so, how this might have been done would give some clue as to the likely perpetrators. To date GSOC have not released this information.

It is not necessary to be a technical surveillance expert or military intelligence signals specialist to be able to do this.

There are numerous independent contractors with the hacking and technical expertise to tap phones and record keystrokes. Passwords can be accessed by the recording of keystrokes via wifi.

This seems to have been one breach or “anomaly” identified by GSOC. In the traditional sense, this is not bugging as there was no physical breach of the telecommunications system.

Phone lines can be tapped the old-fashioned way by breaking in on the transmission via the external connections and line outside the building. However, it is now possible, using hand-held devices, to record conversations from outside a building that has no electronic defences. This can be done with over-the-counter recording technology that collects conversation by homing in on vibrations coming from inside the room.

It should be noted that an electronically-secure building will not be penetrable by the means outlined.


Declan Power is a former career soldier who undertook communication and information duties at Defence HQ. He now comments and consults on security/defence issues .