By Jill R. Aitoro
October 23, 2007
Federal agencies report an average of 30 incidents a day in which
Americans' personally identifiable information is exposed, double the
number of incidents reported early this summer, according to the top
information technology executive in the Bush administration.
The Office of Management and Budget issued a memo in July 2006 requiring
agencies to report security incidents that expose personally
identifiable information to the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team
within one hour of the incident. In June 2007, 40 agencies reported
almost 4,000 incidents, an average of about 14 per day. As of this week,
the average had increased to 30 a day, said Karen Evans, administrator
of the Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology at
Evans, who spoke Monday at the Executive Leadership Conference in
Williamsburg, Va., an annual gathering of government and industry IT
executives, attributed the increase to agencies conducting more thorough
reporting on security breaches. "Agencies are erring on the side of
[caution], reporting [incidents] first, and then getting more
information," Evans said in an interview with Government Executive.
She added that only a small percentage of reported incidents pose a
significant risk to Americans' personal information.
But the figure of 30 incidents a day concerned a chief information
security officer for a large civilian agency attending the conference.
"I was surprised by the number," the CISO said. He added that he reports
an average of one security incident a week, which is typically caused by
an employee who lost a BlackBerry. Since sensitive data is encrypted and
handheld devices can be remotely turned off, the agency avoids security
breaches that could result in exposure of personally identifiable
information, the CISO said.
OMB's 2006 memo states that agencies should report all incidents
involving personally identifiable information in electronic or paper
form, and agencies should not distinguish between breaches that are
suspected to have resulted in exposing personal information and those
that agencies can confirm have resulted in exposing personal
"An increase in reporting isn't necessarily a bad thing," Evans said.
"It means people don't want to end up on the front of the Washington
Post. High [numbers of] reports reflect increased market awareness."
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