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.