Ding 'went to great lengths to hide electronic trail'

Beckham was the key to unlocking an encrypted laptop seized from alleged match-fixer Eric Ding Si Yang. Not the retired England football star but a password that was consistently used in the laptop.

Had a more complicated password been used, it could have been "infinitely" more difficult for specialists to crack it, a district court heard. On the final day of the second tranche of the trial on Tuesday, prosecutors alluded to the lengths that businessman Ding, 31, went to in an effort to conceal his alleged match-fixing activity.

This included using a message "hard disk failure" as a password prompt in the Sony Vaio laptop seized from Ding. Police forensics officer Sim Lai Hua testified: "Without the corresponding password, the computer will simulate a problem with the hard disk."

Deputy Superintendent Sim explained that the operating system partition of the laptop was encrypted using TrueCrypt - a free open-source software. "I was told investigating officers could not secure the password from the user and as such, I proceeded to use forensic software to crack the password," said DSP Sim.

Ding is accused of bribing three Fifa-accredited Lebanese officials - referee Ali Sabbagh, 34, and linesmen Ali Eid, 33, and Abdallah Taleb, 37 - with prostitutes to induce them into fixing a match.

He faces two other charges, which have been stood down, of perverting the course of justice by concealing a receipt from anti-graft investigators and for failing to give his laptop password to a police officer. Ding had allegedly insisted he did not have the password and that the machine was broken.

After DSP Sim gained access to the system, a 30GB file named "holiday.dat" in the Videos folder caught his attention. He tested the "beckham" password on the file, and got through.

Within it was e-mail service KryptoMail, described on its website as "a professional encrypted e-mail service that cannot be intercepted". It is available for a small fee each month.

An e-mail allegedly sent from Ding to Sabbagh of a list of YouTube videos on how to award bogus penalties was not found in a forensic examination of the referee's laptop, the court heard on Monday. The defence argued it may not even have existed.

But it was one of several encrypted e-mail messages retrieved by DSP Sim, along with 35 photographs of Ding. The prosecution argued that the photos prove the laptop belongs to him.

Defence counsel Thong Chee Kun objected to the "weird" proposition. He said: "Just because someone's photo appears on your computer does not mean that computer belongs to that person." Caught in the crossfire, DSP Sim said: "I will not comment on ownership but will say this data was extracted from the laptop."

The defence tried to disprove the extent of encryption, saying it was "not specialist software". Mr Thong said: "Would you agree with me that generally speaking it may not be as secure as, say, some specialist software which government departments may use?"

DSP Sim disagreed. He said: "The software is freely available, but from knowledge and research, even the FBI has problems cracking some TrueCrypt containers."

The trial resumes on Oct 31.

waltsim@sph.com.sg


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

VIDEOS TO WATCH

SERVICES