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Information security breaches quadrupled in 2007

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Personal information leaks reached unprecedented levels last year, according to a brace of studies out last week.

Lost laptops, insecure systems and mislaid discs means problems posed by the exposure of customer records are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. As in other areas of information security organisations are often reticent to invest in encryption and other security defences until they've been hit by a problem.

The San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center reckons more than 79m records were exposed in the US up to 18 December. The figures represent a fourfold increase on the organisation's estimate of 20m lost records in 2006. Increased reporting of breaches as well as greater volumes of data are among the factors accounting for the rise, AP reports.

Data handling has probably always been poor, but information security breach disclosure laws have pushed the issue out into the open.

Meanwhile, Attrition.org reckons 162m customer records were compromised worldwide in the year up to 21 December, compared to 49m lost records in 2006.

As well as taking into account the whole world instead of just the US, Attrition's estimate is higher because it reckons that 94m records were exposed by the theft of credit card data at TJX. Attrition.org's figures come from a lawsuit filed by TJX by banks. The Identity Theft Resource Center takes the 46m figure of potentially compromised credit card details TJX has publicly acknowledged. Hackers are reckoned to have obtained the credit card numbers after snooping on weakly encrypted wireless transmissions of customer information at two Marshalls stores in Miami, a security weakness they exploited to gain access to eventually gain access into TJX's central databases as part of a long-running attack that went undetected for months.

The TJX breach was by far the worst breach of 2007. Other major breaches of last year include the loss by the UK government of two unencrypted CDs containing the records of 25m child benefit claimants. ®

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