Data breach at Progressive highlights insider threat

An employee, later fired, improperly accessed data on foreclosed properties

A recent case in which an employee at Progressive Casualty Insurance Co. wrongfully accessed information on foreclosure properties she was interested in buying highlights again the dangers posed to corporate security by insiders.

Progressive officials today confirmed that the company sent out letters in January to 13 people informing them that confidential information, including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and property addresses had been wrongfully accessed by an employee who has since been fired.

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Michael O’Connor, a spokesman for the Mayfield Village, Ohio-based company, said officials were alerted to the situation when a local woman complained about receiving calls from a Progressive agent inquiring about her house being under foreclosure.

“What happened was that the former employee, who purchased foreclosure property, wrongly used the information in a real estate database,” O’Connor said. Though there was no actual hacking involved to get at the data, her actions constituted a violation of Progressive’s code of ethics, O’Connor said.

“We investigated the situation, the employee was terminated, and we alerted the people whose data was accessed,” he said, adding that the matter was resolved in January.

Such incidents underscore the threat posed to corporate data by malicious insiders and by workers who accidentally leak sensitive information, said Phil Neray, a vice president at Guardium Inc., a Waltham, Mass.-based vendor of database security products. “Most companies have done a good job with perimeter security” and are now finding out they need similar controls internally, Neray said.

The trend is behind a growing need for tools that help companies monitor, detect and audit all activity going on inside networks, databases and applications, he said.

One such tool from Reconnex Corp. has been helping Sirva Inc., a Westmont, Ill.-based provider of relocation services with more than 7,000 employees worldwide, keep tabs on its intellectual property and other sensitive data while the company goes through a series of divestitures.

“One of the things that happens after a divestiture is that people take the stuff they are working on to their new companies,” and Sirva needed a way to prevent that, said Chuck Shmayel, vice president of infrastructure and security at the company. Reconnex’s appliance sits at Sirva’s network-egress points in each of its four data centers and monitors traffic to ensure that confidential information doesn’t exit its networks, either by accident or design.

“As a relocation service, we handle a lot of confidential information on behalf of our customers, and we want to make sure it's protected,” he said.

Implementing specific controls for monitoring what’s flowing out of enterprise networks can go a long way towards mitigating accidental and deliberate data leaks, said Mark Moroses, senior director of technical services at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

As an entity covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Maimonides is required by law to have controls for securing protected health information (PHI). The hospital is using Reconnex’s appliance to detect PHI leaving its networks in an unauthorized fashion, Moroses said.

“From our point of view, the insider threat comes from people either knowingly or unknowingly damaging our reputation” by leaking sensitive information, Moroses said. “Patients come here for AIDS tests and for pregnancy tests that they don’t want to share” with other people, he said. “A patient is not going to come to our hospital if they think we are not doing everything to protect their information. So our reputation is paramount because it affects our bottom-line business."

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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