FBI warned Labor Department data might be leaked: report

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 10, 2012 9:08 PM
FBI warned Labor Department data might be leaked: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Labor Department's recent tightening of security around sensitive economic data came after the FBI and market regulators expressed worries that the data could be leaked, according to a report posted on a government website on Tuesday.

The report highlighted concerns that financial institutions had in effect gained access to the Labor Department's press room to get an early glimpse of economic reports.

The most prominent of that data is the monthly jobs report, which can trigger big swings in stock and bond markets.

Early access to the report would give traders an edge, particularly those that use computer-driven trading platforms, a practice known as algorithmic trading.

Some government departments provide data to the media under rules prohibiting publication before a specified time in a press room in which communications by computer line or phone are disconnected, a procedure known as a "lock up."

Sandia National Laboratories, which prepared the report for the Labor Department, said officials were concerned some media outlets were too close to algorithmic traders.

"Organizations primarily concerned with algorithmic trading would have significant monetary incentive to circumvent the embargo imposed on key economic data prior to its official release," Sandia said in the report, which was posted on the Labor Department's website.

The Sandia report was dated August 2011 and the Labor Department announced in April it was clamping down on security in lock ups.

Starting in July, reporters for media outlets, including Reuters, must empty their pockets and store their effects in lockers before entering the department's press room. Other rules on how computers are used go into effect in September.

Also under the new rules, some media organizations will no longer be allowed in the lockups.

Already, officials in the lock ups control a master switch regulating all computer transmissions from the press room. The switch turns communications off at 8 a.m./1200 GMT, before reporters are given the data, and turns them back on at 8:30 a.m 1230 GMT precisely when the publication embargo is lifted.

Sandia is a government contractor that helps safeguard America's nuclear arsenal and its report for the Labor Department was drawn in grave terms that hinted at intrigue.

"Likely adversaries ... are profit-driven, technically sophisticated individuals who may have considerable resources at their disposal," the report said.

These people have "a high rating for cyber knowledge capability because of the highly technical nature of algorithmic trading."

Sandia said it prepared the report after the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission raised concerns "that key economic data were potentially subject to unauthorized, premature release."

The report did not disclose evidence that any data had been leaked, although several sections of the document were blacked out.

"The apparent root cause for the issues driving this assessment is the presence of algorithmic traders in the press lockup facility," the report said.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; editing by Christopher Wilson)