Utah CTO takes fall for data breach

Resignation sought by Gov. Herbert after breach exposes data on 280,000 Medicaid recipients

The executive director of Utah's Department of Technology Services has resigned over a data breach two months ago that exposed the Social Security numbers and other personal data of about 280,000 Medicaid recipients.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert announced the resignation of Stephen Fletcher on Tuesday.

In a statement, Herbert also described various initiatives underway that aim to mitigate the risk of similar breaches in the future.

The State's plan includes an independent audit of all IT security systems, the appointment of a new health data security ombudsman and a continuing investigation of the breach by law enforcement personnel.

"The people of Utah rightly believe that their government will protect them, their families and their personal data. As a state government, we failed to honor that commitment," Herbert noted.

A report in the Salt Lake Tribune Tuesday quoted the governor as saying he had asked for Fletcher's resignation because he lacked "oversight and leadership."

The role of two other state IT employees in the breach is also under investigation, according to the Tribune report. A contractor has also been fired over the incident for providing software without encryption safeguards, according to the newspaper report.

The hackers, believed to be operating out of Eastern Europe, broke into a Medicaid server at the Utah Department of Health on March 30 by exploiting a default password on the user authentication layer of the system. The attackers were able to bypass multiple network, perimeter and application level security controls.

Initially, state officials said they believed the intruders had accessed about 24,000 health claims records that contained patient names, Social Security Numbers, birth dates, addresses, tax identification numbers and treatment codes.

Less than a week later, the Utah officials acknowledged that an investigation found that close to 280,000 social security numbers may have been exposed in the incident.

Less sensitive personal data, such as names, birth dates and addresses of another 500,000 people, may have also been exposed, officials said.

Some analysts have held up the breach as a classic example of the dangers weak or default passwords controlling access to critical systems and applications pose to enterprises.

Experts note the problem is quite common despite the fact that it's easy to fix.

An independent security audit of Utah government systems by Deloitte & Touche consultants is currently underway along with a parallel assessment of the State's response to the incident, Herbert said in his statement on Tuesday.

Utah's new health data security ombudsman, Sheila Walsh-McDonald, will oversee individual case management, public outreach and credit counseling.

The state has said it will offer free credit monitoring and identity theft insurance coverage of up to $1 million for victims of the breach.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

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