It’s the end of what has already been a tough year for data security. And the news just got worse. South Carolina has announced that its Department of Revenue suffered a major breach. The breach is so massive, in fact that more than 75% of the state’s residents have been affected. The compromised data consisted of the (unencrypted) social security numbers of more than 3.6 million residents. Also included in the breach were about 390,000 payment cards. Most of those were encrypted, though.
This is disturbing on a number of levels. I find it curious, for example, that while encryption was deployed, it was only deployed on payment cards (and not even on all of those). Consumers have built in protections on payment cards. As long as those cards are branded by one of the major card brands, consumers are protected against liability for fraudulent transactions. The far more sensitive data, the social security numbers, were not encrypted, though. This defies logic. Consumers have little to no protection against misuse of SSNs. Not only can very real financial damage be done, consumers have to spend enormous resources (time, money, emotions) in untangling the identity theft knot that comes with stolen SSNs.
Secondly, in the wake of the breach, Governor Nikki Haley issued an executive order that read: “I hereby direct all cabinet agencies to immediately designate an information technology officer to cooperate with the State Inspector General who is authorized to make recommendations to improve information security policies and procedures in state agencies.” WHAT? If I’m inferring correctly, it seems that these agencies didn’t have an information technology officer already?? That is very troubling, particularly considering the types of data that state agencies hold. After 3.6 million (out of about 4.7 million) residents have had their sensitive data stolen is not a great time to decide that data security and privacy should become priority.
Private sector organizations have been working for years to shore up their data security, and in some cases (PCI DSS, HIPAA/HITECH, GLBA, SOX, state laws) face real consequences for failure to protect that data. It’s long past time states put forth the same level of protection. On the plus side, the state did comply nicely with its own data breach notification law.