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2/22/2010
06:56 PM
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FTC Warns Of Widespread Data Breaches

Almost 100 organizations have been notified by the agency that sensitive personal data about their employees and customers has been shared from their networks over peer-to-peer file sharing services.

The Federal Trade Commission on Monday said that it had notified almost 100 organizations in both the public and private sector that they need to review their security practices.

In letters to these organizations, the FTC says that "at least one computer file containing sensitive personal information from or about your customers and/or employees has been shared from your computer network, or the network of one of your service providers, to a peer-to-peer file sharing (P2P) network."

Failure to prevent this information from being shared may represent a violation of one or more laws that the FTC enforces, such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Federal Trade Commission Act.

The FTC however has not filed any lawsuits related to these breaches.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement that companies of all sizes are vulnerable to P2P-related breaches. He said that the FTC found information that could be used to commit identity theft, including health information, financial data, drivers' license numbers and social security numbers.

"Companies should take a hard look at their systems to ensure that there are no unauthorized P2P file-sharing programs and that authorized programs are properly configured and secure," Leibowitz said. "Just as important, companies that distribute P2P programs, for their part, should ensure that their software design does not contribute to inadvertent file sharing."

Despite recent calls by some security experts for greater openness about security breaches, the FTC did not name the entities that received letters. The agency did note that affected organizations ranged in size from eight employees to over 10,000.

The FTC said it is advising organizations that receive letters to identify affected employees and customers and to consider notifying them. States and federal agencies each may have different notification requirements in circumstances like this.

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