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Attacks/Breaches

Stolen NASA Laptop Had Unencrypted Employee Data

Data breach drives NASA to now require that at minimum, all sensitive files stored on laptops be encrypted.

NASA is warning all employees and contractors that their personal information may have been compromised after a thief stole a NASA laptop and documents from an agency employee's locked car.

"On October 31, 2012, a NASA laptop and official NASA documents issued to a headquarters employee were stolen from the employee's locked vehicle. The laptop contained records of sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) for a large number of NASA employees, contractors and others," said Richard J. Keegan Jr., associate deputy administrator of NASA, in a notice sent to all employees.

The data on the laptop wasn't encrypted. "Although the laptop was password protected, it did not have whole disk encryption software, which means the information on the laptop could be accessible to unauthorized individuals," he said.

NASA doesn't yet know the full extent of the breach, presumably because the agency is still attempting to reconstruct and study everything that was on the stolen laptop. "Because of the amount of information that must be reviewed and validated electronically and manually, it may take up to 60 days for all individuals impacted by this breach to be identified and contacted," said Keegan.

[ Avoid a fall from grace. Read Petraeus Fallout: 5 Gmail Security Facts. ]

In addition to now implementing full-disk encryption software for NASA laptops, Keegan said NASA will pay ID Experts to notify people who've been affected by the breach, and to provide identity theft and credit monitoring services. Anyone affected will be notified about the breach via a written, mailed letter -- but not by email or phone, he said.

Given the continuing increase in the number of data breaches affecting organizations, and the accompanying costs of notifying affected people and cleaning up the mess, surely technology-savvy NASA would have already required that all agency laptops be secured using full-disk encryption software?

In fact, that hasn't been the case, apparently owing to user resistance. An IT executive at Goddard Space Flight Center, for example, said that the facility recently implemented data-at-rest encryption on PCs. But some users aren't fans of the software, which they said interfered with some of the tools on their PCs.

In the wake of this breach, however, NASA administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. and CIO Linda Cureton have ordered that "no NASA-issued laptops containing sensitive information can be removed from a NASA facility unless whole disk encryption software is enabled or the sensitive files are individually encrypted," said Keegan. "This applies to laptops containing PII, international traffic in arms regulations (ITAR) and export administration regulations (EAR) data, procurement and human resources information, and other sensitive but unclassified (SBU) data."

NASA facility CIOs have been ordered to add or enable encryption capabilities for the maximum number of laptops by November 21, 2012. By December 21, 2012, all laptops that leave NASA facilities must have encryption capabilities. In the meantime, employees who are telecommunicating or traveling "should use loaner laptops if their NASA-issued laptop contains unencrypted sensitive information," according to Keegan's communication.

Cureton's office will also review whether any further agency security policies need to be revised to help prevent future data breaches stemming from lost or stolen laptops.

A NASA spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment about what type of full-disk or file encryption technology the agency would be using, whether it planned to train all employees to determine what qualifies as "sensitive information" that must be encrypted -- or whether employees' compliance with the new policies would be monitored and enforced.

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Stephane Parent
50%
50%
Stephane Parent,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/16/2012 | 7:47:36 PM
re: Stolen NASA Laptop Had Unencrypted Employee Data
Psst... want an AlienWare PC? Cheap?
Mack Knife
50%
50%
Mack Knife,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/16/2012 | 1:51:18 AM
re: Stolen NASA Laptop Had Unencrypted Employee Data
Another day, another complete failure by government IT security. Don't worry though, the data the government has collected about you is safe. They have stored it on MFM disk drives using single bit encryption and when tested, it was proved that no baboon on the planet was smart enough to access the data. While the chimpanzees found a way in, rest assured, the cyber security laws and regulations prohibit chimpanzees from owning computers. Spider monkeys? Well now, that is another story,
MIhammock
50%
50%
MIhammock,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 10:55:48 PM
re: Stolen NASA Laptop Had Unencrypted Employee Data
Encryption is not new, and Charlie B. assured Congress this was already handled. Apparently he was blowing smoke. The GAO and IG needs to get involved here!! Encryption has been around for laptops since the 90s and there is no reason for this. I'd be placing a lien on that employee's paycheck to pay for the identity theft protection that will need to be purchased!! I'll bet anything that nothing happens to him/her. If this happened in the private sector, the employee would be an ex-employee! How many more nasa devices have to be lost or stolen before Congress starts the witch hunt.
Tom LaSusa
50%
50%
Tom LaSusa,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 10:29:46 PM
re: Stolen NASA Laptop Had Unencrypted Employee Data
Forbidden...and deemed criminal activity. Forget losing your job. Unless the data was so well secured the device is useless to whomever took it, you should be facing some sort of criminal charge, IMO

Tom LaSusa
IWK Community Manager
JimmyKhan007
50%
50%
JimmyKhan007,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 6:12:29 PM
re: Stolen NASA Laptop Had Unencrypted Employee Data
Seagate Disk Drives come with full disk encryption feature, all they have to do is to enable it.
Daniel MD
50%
50%
Daniel MD,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 5:23:52 PM
re: Stolen NASA Laptop Had Unencrypted Employee Data
Oh No! Now NASA's secret plan to hire illegal aliens will come to light!
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