FTC warns nearly 100 firms of P2P data leaks

Other companies investigated for possible violations of data privacy laws over similar leaks

In what appears to be a warning shot, the Federal Trade Commission has sent out letters to about 100 companies, informing them about sensitive and confidential data from their networks being found on publicly available peer-to-peer networks.

The letters stem from an FTC investigation during which the agency discovered numerous examples of health-related information, financial records, driver's license and Social Security numbers, and other data leaked on P2P networks, according to a statement released today.

The letters urged the companies to review their security practices and warned them that their failure to prevent such information from being shared on P2P networks may be in violation of laws enforced by the FTC.

"The Commission has brought a number of cases against companies that allegedly failed to implement reasonable and appropriate security measures to protect sensitive personal information," the letter noted. It went on to remind each of the recipients that it is their responsibility to control the use of P2P software on their networks and on those of their third-party service providers.

In addition to the letters, the FTC has also opened private investigations of an unspecified number of other companies over inadvertent data leaks involving sensitive customer and employee data.

Alain Sheer, an attorney with the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said that as part of the investigations, the FTC will collect information from each company to see if they may have violated data privacy laws. Generally, such investigations are the first step toward a formal compliant being lodged against a company by the FTC, Sheer told Computerworld today.

Sheer emphasized that with the P2P investigations, all that the FTC is doing right now is seeking more information about inadvertent data leaks from some companies. The action does not automatically mean that the FTC is planning on filing a formal complaint against any company, he stressed.

The FTC's actions have been a long time coming and highlight the growing concerns over inadvertent leaks on P2P networks, said Eric Johnson, a professor of operations management at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business.

Over the past few years, there have been numerous reported incidents of sensitive data being inadvertently leaked on P2P networks. Some of the leaks have been sensational.

Last year, Tiversa Inc., a vendor of P2P network-monitoring services, announced that it had found details on safe-house locations for the first family, along with presidential motorcade routes and other sensitive data, on a P2P network.

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