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Sarah Palin is allowed first dibs on Alaskan wolfpack kills.

calendar   Friday - September 22, 2006

Stop, Thief!

Psssst! Wanna buy a slightly used laptop? Good condition, one owner? No, you don’t have to find a crook or crime syndicate or terrorist to get in on this deal. Just ask any civil service employee or check you local pawn shop in D.C. Stuff disappears from federal employees’ care almost daily. Not that all of them are crooks or stupid. Just a good number of them, as has been my experience.

Over 1,100 laptops disappeared in recent years? Nothing new. I have done contracting work for the government for nearly two decades and every contracting company I have ever worked for from Oracle to Lockheed to Harris to Northrop-Grumman to SAIC has always told us that whenever we are on-site at any federal facility to chain our laptops down to the nearest, heaviest desk we can find. That’s no joke.

So who pays for this? Why, you and me and a dog named Boo, of course. The only scarey part is that some of these laptops contain extremely sensitive, private data on American citizens and other data that should never leave a secured building at any time.

Yet they do and that private and/or classified data is secured by nothing more than a login password. Is that safe enough? Bwah-hah-ha-ha-ha-ha .... Not on your life. Almost every IT professional I know has a disk that allows us to boot up a Windoze computer and change the Administrator password in about ten seconds. We have these disks because stupid end users in our offices are continuously forgetting their passwords. Secure data? Not a chance.

imageimage1,100 Laptops Missing From Commerce Dept.
(WASHINGTON POST) - Friday, September 22, 2006

More than 1,100 laptop computers have vanished from the Department of Commerce since 2001, including nearly 250 from the Census Bureau containing such personal information as names, incomes and Social Security numbers, federal officials said yesterday.

This disclosure by the department came in response to a request by the House Committee on Government Reform, which this summer asked 17 federal departments to detail any loss of computers holding sensitive personal information.

Of the 10 departments that have responded, the losses at Commerce are “by far the most egregious,” said David Marin, staff director for the committee. He added that the silence of the remaining seven departments could reflect their reluctance to reveal problems of similar magnitude.

In a private briefing yesterday for three members of Congress, Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez estimated that the disappearance of laptops from the Census Bureau could have compromised the personal information of about 6,200 households, Marin said. He said the department was still trying to determine the extent of the problem.

“We don’t know exactly how many computers were lost or whether personal information was compromised,” said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who chairs the House Government Reform Committee and attended the briefing. “The secretary has assured me that getting that information is priority number one, and I’m confident he’ll get his arms around the problem.”

Commerce officials told the congressmen that the inventory of missing laptops had escalated rapidly in recent weeks as the department investigated the disappearances. Marin said the committee was concerned that that number could increase significantly as Commerce officials learn more about missing handheld computers, which are increasingly being used in the Census Bureau.

Commerce officials said in a statement that they knew of no instances in which information from the missing laptops had been improperly accessed, adding that all the equipment contained safeguards that would prevent a breach of personal data. “The amount of missing computers is high, but fortunately, the vulnerability for data misuse is low,” Gutierrez said in the statement.

With its disclosure, Commerce is the latest federal agency to admit in recent months that it had lost laptops with sensitive personal data. In May, an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs lost a laptop containing unencrypted information on about 26.5 million people. Three months later, Veterans Affairs acknowledged that a second computer, with information on about 38,000 hospital patients in Pennsylvania, was also missing.

The Federal Trade Commission has lost two laptops with files containing people’s financial account numbers, and the Department of Agriculture announced that one of its laptops had disappeared along with personal information on about 350 employees.

Gutierrez and his staff told the congressmen that 1,137 laptops had been stolen, lost or otherwise vanished since 2001, mostly from the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Of these, 249 contained personally identifiable information, nearly all from the Census Bureau. All were password-protected, a low-level safeguard. Only 107 of the computers were fully encrypted.


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Posted by The Skipper   United States  on 09/22/2006 at 05:35 PM   
Filed Under: • CrimePorkbustersStoopid-People •  
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Not that very many people ever read this far down, but this blog was the creation of Allan Kelly and his friend Vilmar. Vilmar moved on to his own blog some time ago, and Allan ran this place alone until his sudden and unexpected death partway through 2006. We all miss him. A lot. Even though he is gone this site will always still be more than a little bit his. We who are left to carry on the BMEWS tradition owe him a great debt of gratitude, and we hope to be able to pay that back by following his last advice to us all:
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Oh, and here's some kind of visitor flag counter thingy. Hey, all the cool blogs have one, so I should too. The Visitors Online thingy up at the top doesn't count anything, but it looks neat. It had better, since I paid actual money for it.
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