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Vulnerabilities / Threats

200,000 Notified of Lost Backup Tape

West Virginia Public Employees Insurance says tape contains names, addresses, Social Security information

The state of West Virginia this week began notifying members of its insurance plans that their personal data may have been compromised through the loss of a system backup tape.

The tape was lost when a third-party shipper discovered an empty package from the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency. The package was bound for a Pennsylvania company that the agency uses for backup analysis.

The agency believes the package came unglued in transit, and does not suspect theft, according to a spokeswoman.

The tape contains data on all of the West Virginia PEIA's insured, as well as members of the states' Children's Health Insurance Program and the AccessWV high-risk insurance pool.

The data loss is another in a long series of losses that have occurred over the past year as a result of mishandled backup tapes or devices. In most cases, the tapes have been lost in transit to a third party or off-site storage facility. (See IBM Offers Reward for Lost Employee Data, Data on 28,279 Nationwide Customers Stolen, and 26 IRS Computer Tapes Missing.)

The frequent data losses have spurred many storage vendors to develop tools for automating the encryption of backup data, as well as the creation of new industry standards for tape storage. (See Hard Disks Spin Up New Security Spec and Bookham Buys Marconi Components .)

Despite the availability of such tools, however, enterprises continue to report loss of tapes and other backup storage media. Less than a week ago, the state of Louisiana reported that the loss of backup media may have exposed the personal information of virtually all college applicants to state universities for the past nine years.

Authorities in West Virginia did not say whether the data on the lost tape was encrypted. The spokeswoman did say the tape cannot be read by standard computer equipment and does not contain medical or prescription claims information. Accessing the data would require highly knowledgeable individuals with specialized data processing equipment loaded with appropriate software, she said.

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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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