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U.S. Government Suffers 'Largest Release Of Personally Identifiable Information Ever'

Records of more than 70 million military personnel may be at risk after loss of unerased hard drive, report says

A defective hard drive containing the personal information of some 70 million U.S. military personnel was returned to a contractor for repair and recycling -- without being erased first, according to a news report.

According to a report in Wired.com, the inspector general of the National Archives and Records Administration is investigating a potential data breach of a hard drive that helped power eVetRecs, the system veterans use to request copies of their health records and discharge papers.

When the drive failed last November, the agency returned the drive to the contractor, GMRI, which sold it to them, for repair. GMRI determined it couldn't be fixed, and ultimately passed it to another firm to be recycled. But Hank Bellomy, a NARA IT manager who reported the incident to the inspector general, told Wired.com that the drive was not properly erased.

"This is the single largest release of personally identifiable information by the government ever," Bellomy told Wired.com. "When the USDA did the same thing, they provided credit monitoring for all their employees. We leaked 70 million records, and no one has heard a word of it."

NARA says the lost drive is not a problem because its contractors signed privacy promises in their contracts. A spokesperson told Wired.com that the agency "does not believe that a breach of PII occurred," according to the report.

The drive was part of a RAID array of six drives containing an Oracle database that held detailed records on 76 million veterans, including millions of Social Security numbers dating to 1972, the report says.

Bellomy told Wired.com that when the unencrypted drive failed, he tried to subvert the longstanding recycling policy by hiding the drive in his safe. But it was taken out of his control when he was put on long-term leave, he said. He also said that more drives failed after the November incident, and that he performed a forensic scan on them to prove they were full of sensitive data.

"I said you can't turn them back in...it's against the law," Bellomy told Wired.com. "We have no clue how many drives have been sent back over the past seven years since this system was in place. I am a government employee, and I'm a veteran, and just this year had both my credit cards replaced because they were compromised."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. 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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