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11/30/2009
06:42 PM
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July Theft Of Navy Laptops Serves As Important Reminder

Bottom line: External storage drives shouldn't be overlooked as a security risk

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.

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