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Arizona state agency loses data on 40,000 children in disk theft

Hard drives stolen from commercial storage facility; data wasn't encrypted, DES says

November 7, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Arizona's Department of Economic Security (DES) is notifying the families of about 40,000 children that their personal data may have been compromised following the theft of several hard drives from a commercial storage facility.

The information stored on the stolen disks included the names, addresses and phone numbers of families whose children were referred to the DES for early intervention services over the past several years. In the cases of families that had applied for and received services from the agency, their records also included Social Security numbers, DES spokeswoman Liz Barker Alvarez said.

The DES provides services such as financial assistance and food stamps programs as well as ones that are aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect. According to Alvarez, the data on the stolen disks was password-protected but not encrypted. She said the disks were stored in a leased storage unit at a local Extra Space Storage facility that was broken into on Oct. 14, and were part of a much broader array of items — including furniture and electronics — that were taken from multiple units at the facility.

As a result, Alvarez added, there's little reason to believe that the thieves were specifically going after the disks or the data on them.

Alvarez said the disks were stored in accordance with the agency's rules, which call for sensitive data to be backed up and kept at an off-site storage facility. She defended the use of the commercial facility and said the unit in which the disks were stored had been locked and monitored.

As has become typical with such incidents, Alvarez said that the breach notices were being sent out not because any of the data has been misused but rather out of an overabundance of caution on the part of DES officials. In addition, both Arizona laws and DES rules require notifications in any situation in which personal information is put at risk of being misused, she said.

The only real difference between the incident in Arizona and most of the countless other breaches disclosed over the past few years is the fact that the compromise at the DES involved the personal data of a large number of children. Other than that, it continues the steady drum beat of breach disclosures resulting from the loss or theft of laptops and storage devices.

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