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Perimeter

Third Parties Fumble Data Handoffs

Your company's data breach may result from a partner's mistakes

Companies are learning -- the hard way -- that the security chain is only as good as its weakest link.

In the past few days, two major organizations have suffered breaches of their constituents' personal data -- not because of something they did, but because of something their partners did.

The U.S. Marine Corps today reported that the personal information of some 10,000 leathernecks, including names and Social Security numbers, has been exposed to potential identity theft. The data was improperly posted on the Web by a university that was studying the Marines' marksmanship, the Corps said.

The announcement comes on the heels of a breach reported by St. Vincent hospital in Indianapolis, where the personal information of some 51,000 patients was exposed when a third-party technician made a mistake in updating one of the hospital's Internet servers.

Although the two breaches are very different, they both demonstrate that breaches can be caused by errors made outside the organization. As part of a study on the effects of live fire on marksmanship, the Marines gave researchers at Penn State University the rifle range requalification records of some 10,000 leathernecks who attended Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C., from January 2004 through December 2006.

According to a report in Marine Times, the data on 10,554 Marines was "improperly posted" to an Internet server and was cached by the Google search engine. The problem was discovered when one of the affected Marines Googled his own name and found the file on the Web.

Marines officials say Penn State has taken the data down, but that the information had been exposed "for 10 or 11 days."

St. Vincent, in its breach case, had subcontracted Verus Inc. to set up a program that would allow patients to pay bills online, according to a report by Channel 6 News in Indianapolis.

"The Verus technician made a change to the Internet server, which left some of our patient information online, unprotected," said Johnny Smith, a spokesman for St. Vincent. The data was exposed for a "brief time," and it is possible that no one accessed it, officials said.

Verus was also blamed in the breach of some 9,000 patient records at Concord Hospital in New Hampshire just last month, according to a report in The Concord Monitor.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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