Janet's Conner

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

VA CALLED SLOW ON SECURITY

WASHINGTON---Veterans affairs officials didn't fully heed warnings dating to 2001 to tighten access to personal data for the millions of U.S. veterans, investigators said Tuesday.

And the Justice Department said it wasn't told about the theft of information on 26.5 million veterans until last week---about two weeks after it was taken from a VA employee's home. The department issued a public warning about the theft Monday.

In the briefing paper to Congress, VA Inspector General Jon Wooditch said he was reviewing the theft from a VA data analyst's home, noting that his office had long cautioned that access controls were weak. Since 2001, the inspector general has reported lax security related to the operating system, passwords and a lack of strong detection alerts, he wrote.

The VA said Monday that the personal information---mainly from veterans discharged since 1975---was stolen in a government-owned laptop with disks in what appeared to be a routine burglary in early May. Included were Social Security numbers, birth dates and in some cases the numbers that rate the severity of the veteran's disabilities.

David Farber, a former Federal Communications Commission official and a professor of computer science and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said such information doesn't belong outside a secure environment.

"Even if someone only stole the laptop for the hardware, they can find a market for the information," he said.

VA Secretary Jim Nicholson said Monday that the analyst had taken the information home to work on a department project. The employee has been placed on leave.

Sen. Larry Craig (R-IDAHO), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, said his panel would hold a hearing Thursday because "26 million people deserve answers." Nicholson was expected to testify.


Source: Detroit Free Press
Story By: Hope Yen
Associated Press
May 24, 2006

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