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Data Breaches Up in First Half of 2008

Reported data breaches increased sharply in the first six months of 2008, jumping 69 percent compared to the same period last year, according to a study by the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). Its findings are detailed in the 2008 Breach Report (available here in a PDF).

ITRC, a nonprofit organization that supports victims of identity theft, collected reports of 342 breaches of personal information that potentially exposed 16.8 million records in the first half of the year. The organization said it was an all-time high for reported breaches in a six-month period, and much of the exposed data was in electronic formats.

The largest offender so far this year was business (excluding financial services), which accounted for nearly 37 percent of breaches. Breaches at banking and financial services companies have been slowly increasing -- from 8 percent in 2006 to 10 percent so far this year -- but they are still at the bottom of the list. That figure reflects the strong regulations and security controls in the industry, according to Jay Foley, ITRC's executive director

Researchers culled the report's findings from ITRC's breach database, which gathers reports of incidents of exposed data that could be used for identity theft. The information is gathered from verified media reports and some state offices that maintain breach notification lists. Not all of the data was stolen, and not all of it has been used in identity fraud.

"I would say the predominant portion of this is from screw-ups, and the lesser amount is theft," Foley said. In other words, more personal data is being exposed due to carelessness than hacking.

The most common type of breach was the theft or loss of a laptop PC, thumb drive, personal digital assistant or other portable device; they accounted for 20 percent of incidents. Hacking was responsible for 12 percent, and exposure through inadvertent posting on a Web site accounted for 15 percent.

About the Author

William Jackson is the senior writer for Government Computer News (GCN.com).

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