House investigation finds that government data losses are widespread

A few unpleasant technology issues have come to light over the course of 2006. Exploding batteries, for example, or corporate pretexting...or government data loss. This summer, a laptop belonging to a Department of Veterans Affairs employee was stolen, jeopardizing the privacy of as many as 26.5 million veterans. So, the congressional House Government Reform Committee looked into the problem of electronic data loss, and they found that this is by no means a problem exclusive to Veterans Affairs.

All 19 of the U.S. government's agencies have reported at least one loss of data since 2003, according to the investigation. And some of them were pretty embarrassing. In the Department of Agriculture, an e-mail with an attached file that contained 1,537 Social Security numbers was sent to all 1,537 of the people whose data was in the file. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 22 laptops stolen from a contractor facility. And the Department of Commerce admitted that personal data in its files may have been lost or compromised on 297 separate occasions.

And despite what you might think from the movies "Sneakers" or "WarGames," hackers are only a small part of the problem. The vast majority of the data losses were due to physical theft, internal misuse, or accidental loss. So, while a lot of emphasis is placed on network security these days--and rightfully so--maybe real-world security needs a bit more attention from the Feds.

Want to read more about government techno-incompetence? The full report's here.

About the author

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.

 

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