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11/30/2009
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Navy Finds Lessons In Stolen Laptops, Storage Drives

The theft of computer equipment from a Naval office turned out to be less serious than feared, but served as a reminder on the importance of securing external hard drives and encrypting data.

The Navy received a report earlier this year of what appeared to be a serious cyber attack. The breach turned out to be less damaging than feared, but the incident served as a reminder that external storage drives shouldn't be overlooked as a security risk, even though USB thumb devices got most of the attention.

The Department of the Navy's CIO Privacy Office was notified on July 27 that a Naval headquarters office had been burglarized, and that the thieves had stolen at least 10 laptops and nine external hard drives.

According to the initial report, one laptop contained a file with passwords and user names; personal financial data including bank accounts, investment accounts, and credit card information; a personal contact list with cell phone numbers, addresses, and birth dates; "government only" contract information; discrimination and hostile work environment correspondence; and other sensitive information.

Upon investigation, the Navy found that the laptop contained "high risk" personally identifiable information on only eight people. And the external hard drives were either still in their boxes or encrypted when taken.

Nevertheless, the incident emphasizes the importance of security policies and continued vigilance over insider threats, according to Navy department of the CIO privacy team lead Steve Muck, who disclosed the breach in a blog post on the Navy CIO's Web site.

"External hard drives are becoming as vulnerable as thumb drives," Muck wrote. "A best practice should be to physically secure them at the end of each work day."

Muck advised employees to never store personally identifiable information or unencrypted user names and passwords on government computers. And he reminded of the importance of inventory control policies.

Finding the flaws in your operating systems and applications is only the beginning. You then need to plot a path to security and ensure that no new weaknesses find their way onto your network. This Dark Reading report focuses on how to do that. Download the report here (registration required).

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The cybersecurity profession struggles to retain women (figures range from 10 to 20 percent). It's particularly worrisome for an industry with a rapidly growing number of vacant positions.

So why does the shortage of women continue to be worse in security than in other IT sectors? How can men in infosec be better allies for women; and how can women be better allies for one another? What is the industry doing to fix the problem -- what's working, and what isn't?

Is this really a problem at all? Are the low numbers simply an indication that women do not want to be in cybersecurity, and is it possible that more women will never want to be in cybersecurity? How many women would we need to see in the industry to declare success?

Join Dark Reading senior editor Sara Peters and guests Angela Knox of Cloudmark, Barrett Sellers of Arbor Networks, Regina Wallace-Jones of Facebook, Steve Christey Coley of MITRE, and Chris Roosenraad of M3AAWG on Wednesday, July 13 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time to discuss all this and more.