Texas comptroller takes blame for major breach

Breach that exposed Social Security numbers of 3.5 million Texans has already led to firing of two IT execs

Days after firing two IT managers after a data breach exposed the Social Security numbers and other personal data of more than 3.5 million Texans, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs took personal responsibility for the incident.

In a statement issued by her office on Thursday, Combs apologized for the debacle and said her office would cover the cost of identity monitoring and restoration services for anyone affected by the breach.

The free credit-monitoring services are available starting today.

"I am deeply sorry this incident occurred and I take full responsibility for it," Combs said in the statement. "This incident has affected the lives of Texans that I have dedicated my life to serving, and I am determined to restore their faith in the Comptroller's office."

Earlier this month, Combs' office disclosed that Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, and the names and addresses of more than 3.5 million Texas residents had been inadvertently exposed on a publicly accessible website for nearly a year.

The exposed data was included in files sent to the state comptroller's office by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, the Texas Workforce Commission and the Employees Retirement System of Texas for use in a property verification system. The data was mistakenly sent unencrypted to the comptroller's office.

Following the discovery of the breach, the heads of information security and of innovation and technology at the comptroller's office were fired, and Deloitte Consulting and Gartner were hired to review its security measures and recommend changes.

Combs also said that her office will be implementing a series of additional measures -- including the installation of new data leak prevention software and an enhanced file-transfer system featuring robust encryption capabilities -- to mitigate the chances of a similar incident occurring.

The comptroller's office will also be adding staff, including a new chief privacy officer, and reorganizing internal reporting structures to strengthen security, Combs said. The chief privacy officer will work with the office's CTO, information security officer and internal auditor to shore up privacy practices, she added.

The breach has already cost the comptroller's office more than $1.8 million and could end up costing a whole lot more, according to reports.

So far, the state has spent $1.2 million on sending out notification letters, close to $300,000 for Gartner's and Deloitte's services, and another $393,000 to set up a call center for handling queries from those affected by the breach, according to the Austin American-Statesman's website.

In addition, the website noted that the identity monitoring service being offered by Combs' office could cost up to $21 million if everybody enrolls in it. Combs has stated that she will bear the cost of identity restoration services from her own campaign funds, the publication noted.

Combs' office did not respond to a request for confirmation of the estimated costs listed on Statesman.com.

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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