Data Processing, Security Breach
My colleague Renae Merle got an interesting disclosure from SAIC on Friday. It seems the federal contracting giant wanted to fess up to a security breach involving personal information about hundreds of thousands of people in the military and their families.
The press release was headlined "SAIC Addresses Possible Data Compromise."
The company said it was processing health care data for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Department of Homeland Security. The records were stored on a company computer that was apparently linked to the Internet but not secured from intruders. In some cases, the information was transmitted over the net without the use of encryption to protect it from prying eyes.
Some 870,000 service members and their families will be told before long that it does not appear their information was inappropriately obtained or used by outsiders. But they'll also be told that "the possibility cannot be ruled out."
Security is one of the great challenges of the day for the federal government. As agencies collect more and more information about Americans, the complexion of the information changes. The more detail, the better the portrait of the person, particularly when it can be analyzed by ever more sophisticated software. Bad guys can do a lot these days with very little information.
According to study after study, the government has not done a very good job of facing up to that challenge, for properly securing the digital mountains of data they're collecting about us and our lives. Add in the difficulty of overseeing how contractors manage our information, and you have a formula for trouble.
It appears as though SAIC is jumping on its own problem. In an "open letter," SAIC Chairman Ken Dahlberg offered a "personal apology" for the lapse. He also said that a number of SAIC employees were "placed on administrative leave" pending the outcome of an internal probe.
"It is completely unacceptable," he said of the breach. "We did not live up to the high level of performance that our customers have learned to expect and demand from us."
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