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8/13/2010
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VA Posts Data Breach Reports Online

Monthly updates show the different ways data has leaked out of the agency, including lost or stolen hardware and misdirected emails.

Once again showing that it's serious about transparency, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has begun posting reports about data breaches on its website.

The monthly reports, which the agency compiles for Congress, list different ways the VA has lost data, such as through lost hardware or misdirected emails.

For example, a report (PDF) from July 5 to Aug. 1 shows the agency lost two PCs, 13 BlackBerry devices and six laptops. It also reported 103 of so-called "mis-mailed" incidents, and 90 "mis-handling" incidents.

All of the lost laptops were encrypted, according to the report.

In the past the VA has had some major data breaches, including one in April that involved the loss of two unencrypted laptops that contained personal information about more than 600 veterans.

Another infamous data breach in 2006 involved the theft from a VA employee's home of a laptop that contained data on more than 26 million veterans. That incident spurred a Congressional review, as well as cost the agency $20 million to settle a class-action suit.

The VA is taking its data breaches seriously enough that VA CIO Roger Baker has begun monthly calls with members of the press to discuss them.

Since taking his position, Baker has made a concerted effort to improve IT operations at the VA, with data security being a major priority.

The posting of the reports also shows how far the agency has come in terms of transparency and accountability for its IT operations, which historically have been criticized for serious inefficiency.

Baker has put into effect an accountability program that flags IT projects behind schedule, over budget, or both. That program, which was recently expanded to all of the VA's IT projects, saved the agency $54 million in its fiscal-year 2010 budget.

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