June 30, 2006
FBI Recovers Stolen VA Laptop
By Roy Mark
It's back: intact and apparently un-accessed.
Veterans Administration (VA) Secretary James Nicholson said Thursday his agency's infamous stolen laptop containing the personal records of 26.5 million veterans has been recovered.
Nicholson told the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs the FBI found the laptop after a tipster seeking a $50,000 reward called in the location of the computer. No arrests have been made in the case.
According to Nicholson, initial FBI forensics on the laptop appear to indicate that no one compromised the personal data, including veterans' names and Social Security numbers.
Although the FBI has not completed its investigation, Nicholson said the government is "optimistic" the chances of identity theft have been minimized.
In late May, the VA went public with the theft, which is the second-largest data breach on record and the largest Social Security numbers breach ever.
The breach occurred when a VA employee took the laptop home, where it was stolen in an apparent burglary.
The committee members praised the recovery of the laptop, but lawmakers remained critical of the agency's IT security policies.
"The recovery of the computer does not change the importance of our oversight," Committee Chairman Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) said. "We will continue to hold the VA responsible and accountable."
Nicholson told the panel the VA's Office of Information and Technology will now have broad authority over the department's information resources and security.
"I have been paying close attention to these hearings," Nicholson said. "I have heard your concerns that the [VA's] chief information officer has insufficient authority to ensure compliance with the deficiencies noted in the past and ensure future compliance."
The VA breach was the start of a series of startling data breaches disclosed by the government over the last six weeks.
Last week, the Navy announced approximately 28,000 sailors and their families were exposed to potential identity theft when a civilian Web site posted five spreadsheets with the personal data of military personnel.
The information disclosed the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of the sailors and their dependents.
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) previously reported hackers may have accessed the personal information of as many as 26,000 current and former USDA employees.
In mid-June, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said the laptops of two agency attorneys containing the personal information of more than 100 people were stolen from a locked vehicle.