Personal data of reservists, veterans at risk in recent thefts

Encryption policies ignored at VA

Personal data belonging to more than 207,000 Army reservists was stolen earlier this year, according to Col. Jonathan Dahms, the Army Reserve's chief public affairs officer, and cited in a report on the KrebsOnSecurity blog by former Washington Post reporter Brian Krebs.

The Reserve Command began alerting affected reservists via e-mail messages on May 7, Dahms said. The unencrypted data was on a CD-ROM that was in a laptop stolen from an office of Serco Inc., a government contractor based in Herndon, Va. The laptop -- one of three stolen, but the only one known to contain personal data -- was taken from the company's Morrow, Ga., office. It may also have contained personal data on the spouses and children of some reservists.

In a separate incident, Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) said that a laptop stolen from an unidentified Veterans Affairs department contractor contained personal data that belonged to 644 veterans. Buyer, the ranking Republican on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the contractor reported the theft to the committee on April 28, according to report at NextGov.

Congress and the VA ordered in 2006 that contractors should store all personally identifiable information in encrypted form, but the data on the stolen one was not encrypted, according to the report.

In a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shenseki, dated May 12, Buyer detailed the incident and another recent laptop theft that may have exposed unencrypted data, according to the report. Shinseki had ordered a review in 2009 which revealed that 28 percent of the agency's contracts did not include the required information security clauses.


About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

Reader Comments

Mon, Jun 7, 2010 SGT Jones

Prosecute and fire the people responsible for either stealing the laptops themselves or leaving them laying around to be stolen. Do the companies run a business or a free-laptop charity?

Mon, May 17, 2010 Veteran Teleworker

A classic example of "Rules are for everyone else but me!" Particularly gross since it (is reported to have) happened in VA next to DC. DUH!

Mon, May 17, 2010

This is standard practice at the VA and other federal agencies, including supporting contractors. It's not going to change until personnel, regardless of position are held accountable - like being fired, and prosecuted if negligence can be proven. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, stop the lip service and back it up with action. Federal Vet.

Sat, May 15, 2010 Robert Yarush Bagram,Afghanistan

I cannot believe that laptops are even allowed to wander off of the VA workplace. The notion of allowing excpet the highest ranking type of personnel to carry laptops off site is amazing to me. Working from home... OK... you have a machine at home... and you have one at work... You VPN into work and you perform your duties... but to allow the average worker to roam around with sensitive data is totally rediculous. I cant believe the government allows such a thing.

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