Texas fires two tech chiefs over breach

Data of 3.2M people was inadvertently posted on a publicly accessible Web site

The Texas State Comptroller's office has fired its heads of information security and of innovation and technology following an inadvertent data leak that exposed Social Security numbers and other personal information on over 3.2 million people in the state.

Two other employees have also been fired over the incident, a statement posted on Texas Comptroller Susan Combs' site noted.

The office has hired Gartner and Deloitte to review its existing information security controls and policies and to recommend any needed changes. In addition, the state has also negotiated a 70 per cent discount on credit monitoring fees with Experian for affected individuals, the statement said.

The measures come in the wake of a recent disclosure by Combs' office that Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, and names and addresses of more than 3.2 million Texans were inadvertently posted on a publicly accessible Web site for nearly a year.

The exposed data was contained in three files that were transferred to the comptroller's office from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS), the Texas Workforce Commission and the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS).

The data, which was to be used by a property verification system at the Comptroller's office, was supposed to have been transferred in an encrypted manner by the agencies under Texas administrative rules. However, the data was transferred in an unencrypted manner to the Comptroller.

To compound the mistake, personnel in Combs' office then put the information onto a server that was accessible to the public and left it there for an extended period, without purging it as required, the statement said.

The mistake was finally discovered on March 31, more than 10 months after the files were put on the server. Since then, public access to the files have been shut off and the data itself been removed from the server. The exposed information was "embedded in a chain of numbers and not in separate fields," the statement noted.

Though Combs' office noted that there is no indication that the exposed data has been misused, a statement released by state Attorney General Greg Abbott on Tuesday warned of a fraudulent call received by a state employee following the breach.

"Unfortunately, the Attorney General's Office has learned that Texans affected by the Internet security breach may now be the targets of a new telephone scam," Abbott said. He asked affected victims to be extra vigilant against fraud.

Abbott's office is currently conducting an investigation into the breach.

The sheer number of records that were exposed by the comptroller's office makes this the largest breach involving Social Security numbers and other personal data, this year. Despite the size of the breach, the public firing of technology executives over such incidents are relatively rare.

In 2008, Providence Home Services fired an employee and three others quit their jobs, after the theft of backup computer tapes and disk containing personal information on 365,000 individuals.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed. His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

Read more about data security in Computerworld's Data Security Topic Center.

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