Fallout From Utah Breach Increases

By | Apr 23, 2012

The Utah breach of data systems at the Department of Health on March 30 has highlighted the increasing vulnerability of sensitive data to cyber attack. Eastern European hackers are believed to be behind the breach and have downloaded the social security numbers, credit card details, names, and home addresses of thousands of people whose health records were stored in aggregated databases at the Utah Department of Health.

While the initial damage was estimated at around 24,000 people with records compromised, that number has been revises three times to now estimate that more than 900,000 people's records were downloaded by the hackers.

According to an Associated Press report, the records were lifted from a new server at the Department of Health on which an insecure password was installed, despite the Department having multiple layers of security on all of their servers.The purpose behind the attack is believed to be identity theft, and officials have said that affected persons will be notified and given assistance with monitoring their credit cards and bank accounts for signs of fraud. However, a large number of files were of children, which makes it extremely difficult to monitor for identity theft, given that the majority would not have credit or bank accounts to watch.

A Sage Reminder to All Businesses

This latest cyber attack is a grave reminder to all midsize businesses that deal with sensitive data--not only of the importance of secure software and IT protocols, but of the frailty of simple measures like password strength and data encryption.

The human factor in data security was highlighted by the Utah breach, underscoring the fallibility that enters into even the most robust security systems with simple human error. Poor password practices are a weak point in personal and business data security, particularly with the abundance of personal information now available over social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

The other element of concern in this case is the use of aggregated databases. With information stored "en masse," the Utah hackers were handed thousands of records in one file download. There is much merit in creating secure databases that segment information rather than collating it, so that if one part of a server of part of a network is compromised, the rest is not. Aggregated databases act like an information silo, whereas compartmentalizing data provides more layers of security from both internal and external threats.

Data security is not something any business wants to take lightly or skimp on. Strategic Intelligence firm STRATFOR learned first-hand how poor data security can not only put your clients and customers at risk, but also dent a business's reputation. In December 2011 emails, banking and credit card information was stolen from the company by a group linked to hacking collective Anonymous. The hackers had an easy job of it because STRATFOR had failed to encrypt emails and customers' financial data, according to The New York Times.

What happened in Utah or to STRATFOR shouldn't be taken as isolated incidents. There is a clear indication that data security practices are lacking across a broad range of industries, and hackers are well placed to take advantage of that. Whether for financial, political, or ideological gain, cyber attacks are on the rise, and there has never been a time when data security is more important than now.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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