Hartford Financial misplaces tapes with personal data

Warning follows loss of claims center backup tapes

The Hartford Financial Services Group has notified about 237,000 policy holders of a potential compromise of their personal data.

The warning followed the loss of three backup tapes containing the names, addresses, Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers of customers of the company's personnel lines claims center. The tapes were discovered to be missing on September 27.

So far, there is no evidence that the tapes were stolen or that the information has been misused, a company spokeswoman said. Hartford Financial Services has no idea if the tapes were misplaced while in transit to another location or if they went missing inside the company. But the information contained on them could only be read with "the use of sophisticated and expensive equipment," she added.

As a precaution, the company is offering a year's worth of free credit protection services from Equifax, the statement said, The services include credit monitoring, unlimited credit reports and US$20,000 in identity theft protection. Individuals who elect to implement credit freezes on their credit lines will also be eligible for a reimbursement of the costs associated with that freeze, the company said in a statement.

The Hartford breach is similar to scores of others in recent years involving the loss or theft of computers and media containing sensitive personal data. Security analysts have recommended that companies use encryption to mitigate potential data loss in such situations. Many companies that have been reluctant to do so because of cost concerns end up paying significantly more in notification and other costs when a breach occurs, analysts have previously noted.

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