Data breaches up, but not in government sector

Reported data breaches increased sharply in the first six months
of 2008, jumping 69 percent compared to the same period last year,
according to a study by the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC).
But the percentage of breaches occurring in the government sector
has dropped steadily in the past three years.


ITRC, a nonprofit organization that supports victims of identity
theft, collected reports of 342 breaches of personal information
that potentially exposed 16.8 million records in the first half of
the year. Its findings are detailed in the 2008 Breach Report. The organization
said it was an all-time high for reported breaches in a six-month
period, and much of the exposed data was in electronic formats.


But improvements in data security by government organizations
appear to be making a difference, said Jay Foley, ITRC's
executive director. The government accounted for 30 percent of all
breaches in 2006, which dropped to 25 percent last year and just 17
percent in the first half of this year. The largest offender so far
this year was business (excluding financial services), which
accounted for nearly 37 percent of breaches.


'It looks like government is stepping up and making more
efforts to control the data,' Foley said. 'But we
won't know until the end of the year where we're
at.'


Breaches at banking and financial services companies have been
slowly increasing ' from 8 percent in 2006 to 10 percent so
far this year ' but they are still at the bottom of the list.
That figure reflects the strong regulations and security controls
in the industry, Foley added.


Researchers culled the report's findings from ITRC's
breach database, which gathers reports of incidents of exposed data
that could be used for identity theft. The information is gathered
from verified media reports and some state offices that maintain
breach notification lists. Not all of the data was stolen, and not
all of it has been used in identity fraud.


'I would say the predominant portion of this is from
screw-ups, and the lesser amount is theft,' Foley said. In
other words, more personal data is being exposed due to
carelessness than hacking.


The most common type of breach was the theft or loss of a laptop
PC, thumb drive, personal digital assistant or other portable
device. They accounted for 20 percent of incidents. Hacking was
responsible for 12 percent, and exposure through inadvertent
posting on a Web site accounted for 15 percent.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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