Ireland’s police chief’s Gmail at centre of hacking investigation

22 Nov 2016

The fact that the Garda commissioner had to use her Gmail shows how poor IT systems are in the force. Image: Owen J Fitzpatrick/Shutterstock

The need for a rapid overhaul of Garda computer systems has been underlined by the revelation that Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan broke Garda rules by using a Gmail address in order to conduct routine business.

The beleaguered police chief yesterday confirmed reports that she had used a Gmail account for Garda business due to restrictions on size and storage on the Garda system.

O’Sullivan reportedly used her private email address occasionally.

There were fears that O’Sullivan’s Gmail details were among data belonging to more than 68m whose data was stolen from Dropbox in 2012.

But An Garda Síochána stated that it is satisfied the Commissioner’s data is secure and that there is no evidence that it had been compromised.

The heart of the matter appears to be the fact that, on Android smartphones used among Gardai, a Gmail address is required for log-in.

“The Commissioner takes all recommended security measures when using Gmail such as regularly changing the password, using a mix of letters, numbers and symbols for the password, and independent device authentication,” An Garda Síochána stated.

She has also stopped including her title or workplace in her embedded signature.

Overhaul of prehistoric Garda systems urgent

This isn’t the first time that An Garda Síochána systems have drawn fire, with outdated systems being incapable of storing video evidence such as YouTube videos, for example, which could be key in a variety of investigation scenarios today.

An Garda Síochána rules over the use of external email systems were in place since 2012. However, the outdated nature of its existing system has made it necessary for officers to use Gmail to access documents.

In June this year, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, TD, unveiled a major €205m plan to overhaul outdated IT systems.

Cutbacks in recent years meant many Garda stations didn’t even have a basic broadband system.

Officers even took to labelling a decades-old IT system called Pulse as “prehistoric”.

As part of the €205m IT overhaul, Garda stations are to be equipped with an enterprise content management system that will allow CCTV to be shared by officers across the country. Garda cars are to be equipped with new onboard computers that will also allow for better surveillance of suspected criminals.

The new system will provide officers with a “cradle-to-grave” overview of managing data on criminal cases, with officers able to review all evidence relating to suspects in one place.

Irish Gardaí on the beat in Dublin. Image by Owen J Fitzpatrick via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years