Many, if not most, data security professionals will tell you that you should run a risk assessment and accordingly develop your plans for securing information, sensitive or otherwise. Then there are others who will counsel that one should secure as much as possible: obviously protect what represents a high risk situation, but never discount the possibilities of what seems like a low or no-risk situation blowing up beyond expectations.
The idea is that dealing with the legal, financial, and public relations fallout of a data breach are comparable regardless of the initial risk classification.
For example, one might recommend that disk encryption be deployed to all computers – not just laptops – because it’s never guaranteed that a desktop computer won’t be leaving a business’s premises in an unapproved manner. There is history to back this up: burglaries; theft or loss of computers that have fallen into disuse and put into “temporary” storage; computers where information was inadequately scrubbed (or not at all) before being retired; etc., have been reported in the media over the years.
The motives behind such data breaches are as varied as the data breaches themselves. Some people may be after the data. Others may want to replace their aging computer back home. Yet others may be looking to flip the hardware on craigslist. And, of course, there is the time-honored, ever-surging, never-can-kill-it “oops” situation.
And then you have the guy who really, really wants to play Xbox.
Custodian Swipes Hard Drives
According to wtxl.com and other sources, a Florida man was arrested for stealing hard drives from the Florida Department of Revenue. The hard drives contained taxpayer information and their disappearance, needless to say, triggered a data breach.
A swift investigation led to one Andru Reed, a 21 year-old who eventually admitted to the theft. Reed confessed that he had stolen four hard drives so that he could connect them to his Xbox and download video games. Law enforcement is still conducting data forensics to sniff out any conflicts in Reed’s story, but they’re pretty certain that the taxpayer data was never accessed.
How was Reed able to steal these hard drives? Pretty easily. He was a custodian who was working the premises. So, he didn’t have to “Mission Impossible” himself into the offices. He just walked in. Furthermore, the four hard drives in question were external hard drives. All he had to do was pick them up, ideally when no one was watching (which he bungled, apparently. When the police started the investigation, employees in the office mentioned seeing Reed acting suspiciously).
Encrypted or Not?
As noted before, there are competing schools of thought when it comes to data security. The loss or theft of external hard drives can be deemed a low data risk situation if they never leave a secure area.
That’s a big if, though. Security breaches where employees or outside contractors purposefully steal sensitive data, usually to sell to legal and illegal data brokers, are not unusual. So, did the Florida Department of Revenue (FDR) encrypt these hard drives or not?
We don’t know. The March 27 statement from the FDR is pretty nebulous:
At this time, we are taking all necessary precautions to review the established physical and digital internal security procedures to ensure uniform implementation across the Department. If after the full investigation it is found that any employee did not take the proper steps to protect taxpayer information they will be held accountable. [floridarevenue.com]
And then on April 17:
Through the details presented, we are confident that the information on the drives was not accessed. As a result of the Department of Revenue’s thorough processes and procedures to monitor and maintain equipment, we were able to rapidly identify and report the property missing. [floridarevenue.com]
Florida, like most US states, has a data breach notification law. It states that notifications to individuals must be made no later than 30 days after the breach has been identified. If encryption was not used on any of the four storage devices, it will be known before the month is over. (That the drives were recovered does not negate that a breach took place).
For the time being, for speculation purposes, all signs appear to point towards encryption not being used: the public announcement, which is required by law; the weeks-long digital forensics (it really shouldn’t be taking that long with encryption in place); and the lack of the word encryption in any materials covering the case (it’s usually mentioned if it was present).
On the other hand, the words “data breach” are not linked to this situation in any form whatsoever. The fact that the theft and the recovery have been dealt with by the media without alluding to a data breach is unusual, and reason enough to wonder whether the external hard drives were secured correctly after all.
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