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US data breaches booming in '08

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The number of personal information leaks reported in the US this year have already exceeded the total amount in all of 2007, San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center said today.

With four months left in 2008, the firm found that 449 US businesses and government agencies have thus far reported lost or stolen customer and employee data.

But the agency reckons the actual number is likely higher, due to under-reporting and data loss that affects multiple businesses being reported as a single event. All told, ITRC said its 2008 list represents compromised records of more than 22 million individuals — although it calls that number "grossly incomplete" because in about 40 per cent of events the number of records exposed is not reported or fully disclosed.

Yet ITRC founder Linda Foley attributes part of the growth to companies becoming more open to reporting data loss and the group's access to state notification lists.

"If more states would publish breach notification lists, there would be more information to study and to help us understand this growing concern," she said. "At this time, only three states publish such information. Additionally, more companies are starting to audit their security and network systems and use readily available security measures. This pro-active approach means that breaches are being identified that might otherwise have gone undetected."

So while US companies as a whole aren't really getting better at actually securing personal information, at least they're more honest about cock-ups. And that's a kind of progress. Sort of. Arguably.

The group highlighted a recent massive breach caused by a retailer using unsecured or poorly secured networks to store customer data.

Early this month, the US Attorney General's office indicted members of a hacking ring that allegedly lifted 40 million credit and debit card numbers from retailers TJX, BJ's Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, Forever 21, and DSW.

Feds estimate the hackers netted about 45.7m payment cards from TJX (which operates T.J. Maxx stores) alone. ®

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