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Ohio data leak was 'accident waiting to happen'

Warning unheeded as thousands of records exposed

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A stolen backup tape containing personal data on Ohio state workers also contained the names and Social Security numbers of around 225,000 state residents.

A mounting privacy brouhaha is building over the purloined tape, stolen on 10 June from the back of an unlocked intern's car. At first it seemed that the data contained on the tape only referred to 64,000 state workers and Ohio's 84,000 welfare recipients. Subsequent checks have revealed that data on taxpayers who are yet to cash state income tax refund cheques was also on the tape, greatly increasing the number of people potentially exposed to identity fraud.

State officials point out that reading the data on the tape would require specialist hardware and expertise. Even though there's no indication that any of the stolen data has been misused, 20,000 state workers have signed up to an identity-theft protection scheme, at a cost to the Ohio taxpayers of $700,000. State officials plan to extend this protection to other groups found to have been exposed to fraud.

Snafu

The tape was nicked after a 22-year-old intern was asked to take it home as part of "standard security procedure". Gov. Ted Strickland has since stepped in to curtail the practice of workers taking backup devices home for safekeeping. He also announced a review of how state data is handled.

Questions are been asked about why the policy wasn't tightened up earlier after it emerged that the governor's transitional team warned that the state's computer security policies were lax before he took office in January.

A team of IT consultants concluded the state had "little to no policy guidance or standards" for protecting sensitive data, according to a report prepared by Strickland's transition team, unearthed by the Columbus Dispatch.

"Ohio's lack of a robust, unified privacy/security capacity lays it open to the type of data spills and breaches that have been plaguing the government and the corporate sectors in increasing numbers over the past few years," the report said, as reported by AP. ®

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