Earlier this month, the FBI arrested government contractor Reality Leigh Winner who is accused of leaking highly classified documents to the press. FBI investigators likely found that Winner was the leaker after they carefully studied the physical copies of the documents she submitted to The Intercept for publication, a group of experts claim.
According to FBI documents, Winner admitted that she printed out an NSA report and emailed it to the news outlet. The story was published days before she was arrested. Scans of the compromising document are now available for everyone to see on the Internet.
Experts who analyzed the copies said they found an invisible pattern of yellow dots on each page of the document. The pattern, which forms a coded design, is not visible to the naked eye.
The pattern revealed to FBI investigators when the document was printed and from what machine. The printer’s internal clock showed Winner printed it on May 9, 2017 at 06:20. Experts also found the printer’s unique serial number in the dotted pattern.
Color Printers Routinely Use Microdots
Many printers have these microdots, especially color printers, without people even knowing that they’re there. In Winner’s case, the FBI refuse to confirm that they used the dots to track the leaker. The Department of Justice which first broke the news about the contractor’s arrest refused to comment on the findings too.
In a recent article, The Intercept suggests Winner has been wrongfully accused.
“Winner faces allegations that have not been proven. The same is true of the FBI’s claims about how it came to arrest Winner,”
the online publication said.
However, the pattern of dots on a document printed out using a NSA printer has prompted experts to comment on the findings. One analyst noted that the microdots are fairly ‘obvious’.
Multiple security experts who decoded the pattern said they came up with the exact time, date, and serial number of the printer. Tracking dots have been in use for some years now, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a list of machines that use them.
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