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Millions of Potentially Sensitive Records from the Clinton Era Gone Missing

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A computer hard drive which contained huge amounts of personal and sensitive information from the Clinton administration is missing. Some of this information includes Social Security numbers, personal addresses and even scarier, Secret Service and White House operational procedures.

Yesterday, government officials were briefed about the compromise, which was originally discovered in April. The hard drive held a terabyte of computer data that could contain millions of individual records. A terabyte of data would be enough to fill millions of books, according to this article published by the AP.

The media is reporting that the personal information of one of Al Gore’s three daughters was one of the millions of records gone missing – although it is not clear which daughter’s information was compromised. Given the amount of information stolen, it’s likely a lot of other notable as well as ordinary people have been compromised, too. According to articles I read, authorities are still trying to figure out exactly what was on the hard drive.

The drive was lost sometime between March 2008 and April 2009 from the National Archives and Administrations in College Park, MD, which is a Washington suburb near the University of Maryland.

The drive was left out, unsecured, in a room that is frequently left unlocked for ventilation. According to an unidentified source, a researcher who was converting the information to a digital records system left the hard drive on a shelf for an unknown period of time. When the researcher tried to resume work on the project, it was discovered to be missing.

According to Rep. Edolphus Towns, Democrat-N.Y., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, they are seeking more information on the breach, and the FBI is investigating.

The FBI will have a lot of suspects in this case. One hundred badge holders had access to the area. Additionally,the point of compromise is an area where workers, interns and even visitors pass on their way to the restroom.

This information would normally be stored in a secure area. Thus far, officials are quick to point out that it is unknown whether the hard drive was stolen or accidentally lost, and if any sensitive security information was lost.

At this time, either it isn’t clear, or no one is saying, whether or not the data was encrypted. Encrypting data is considered a “safe and sane” security practice when dealing with data in transit and has become a legal requirement in many situations.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have pointed to a problem with government agencies being compromised in the past. In a report released in 2006, the Committee came to the conclusion that the problem with agencies being compromised was government-wide. Other findings in the report include: agencies do not always know what was lost, physical security of data is essential and contractors are responsible for many of the breaches.

The report covers from 2003 to 2006 and, in light of this latest occurrence, it appears the problem still exists.

More recently, President Obama has pointed to another problem which does have national security implications and which involves protecting cyberspace from the threats that exist today. Thus far, a study has been conducted, and is being reviewed. Stories in the media have pointed to a concern with cyber warfare and with hackers from foreign countries (notably China and Russia), who have been suspected of targeting government systems.

If you are interested in learning more about Chinese hackers, there is a well written blog on the subject titled “The Dark Visitor (Information on Chinese Hacking”. Another non-government source which covers data breaches in general is the Open Security Foundation.

While the implications of this latest issue have yet to be determined, it is not good news from the standpoint of how easily the information was compromised. Of course, this is merely one incident, and if you follow the news, we get bad news about data compromises all the time.

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About Ed Dickson

  • RJ

    Any BJ Clinton rape pics hit the web yet?

  • roger nowosielski

    Ed Dickson,

    You should read some of Michel Foucault’s writings – especially when he talks about the surveillance society and of usurping our freedoms in a back-door, underhanded kind of way.

    It’s definitely the case for technology getting ahead of us in terms of legal protection that’s affordable to the individuals. And that’s your credo, judging by what you say you’re about in your bio.

  • Dan(Miller)

    It strikes me that the human element here had far more to do with the problem than did the technology element or the legal element. Whether sensitive information is stored on hard drives, DVDs, CDs, floppy discs, paper notebooks, wax tablets or parchment scrolls — or even chiseled on rocks — leaving the medium out in an area where workers, interns and even visitors pass on their way to the restroom suggests that some human(s) screwed up big time. Neither legal nor technological solutions are likely to prevent this sort of thing. A modicum of common sense might help, however. If theft was involved, I understand that that theft is already a crime.


  • Ruvy

    Why are there no articles on the cap and trade boondogle, the government take over of the auto industry or California going bankrupt?

    Instead we get articles about the tamil tigers, lindsey grahm and a hard drive full of slick willie’s asian cowgirl porn.

    Hey Bing, if you can type a nasty comment about “the articles we get”, you can write an article, too. You’re not stupid, you know…. It ain’t that hard, if I could do over 120 of them here.

  • Cindy

    It’s Dan(Miller). Hey there. The eagle has landed (Monday+/-6days).

    That is spy code, btw.

  • Dan(Miller)

    Hey, Cindy

    I haven’t forgot that I owe you a response to your comments in the “torture” thread. Nor do I have any really good excuse: the Technorati Monster did not eat it, we don’t have thunderstorms in the morning, my internet connection has been chugging along pretty well, and I haven’t been ill. I just haven’t been in the mood.

    Soon. Of course, I may respond in spy code, but with a copy of David Kahn’s The Code Breakers, it should be easy as pie to break: just use your comment #9 here as a simple substitution code.


  • Clavos

    Why are there no articles on the cap and trade boondogle, the government take over of the auto industry or California going bankrupt?

    Obviously, you haven’t looked.

  • roger nowosielski

    Dan Miller, #8:

    You should find this article interesting.

  • Andy Marsh

    Bush did it!

    Or maybe it was Cheney!

    I heard they even killed Kenny…Bastards!