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The Bigger They Are

In a report on the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) published last month and entitled, “Computerising the Chinese Army, centre-right policy “Think-tank”, Aediles expressed concerns over the management and storage of confidential patient information across a fully joined-up Health Service. The report recommended that “The concept of the Data Spine should be reviewed” and in the context of National ID Card and NHS Proposals for "secure" central files, last week’s reported break-in at the prime contractor for secure US systems and a main contractor to our own Government, is significant.

"Nothing has been stolen I promise you"

On Saturday, the Washington Post revealed that Science Applications International, (SAIC) a $7 billion corporation which manages many of the United States government’s most sensitive information security contracts, had been compromised at the end of January, after a burglary “netted” computers containing the Social Security numbers, share-dealing histories and personal details of tens of thousands of past and present company employees.

SAIC’s directors, shareholders, employees and consultants include many of Washington's most influential figures and include former military and intelligence officials, with government security clearances and these have now been informed of the danger of identity theft as a result.

The SAIC break-in begs the question that if an international contractor of this size in a country where security guards are invariably armed, cannot secure its own systems then what faith can we have in the overall security of any large central database of sensitive information in the UK? It implies that any policy of our own in the UK must sensibly be built around the assumption that security can (and will) be broken rather than the present and rather touching faith in the technology that protects it.

In the present atmosphere, driven by the introduction of new compliance legislation, Government might be well-advised to look more closely at how the finance sector handles such risks in relation to both NHS records and National ID card Proposals.

Identity theft is a growing problem that now has the recognition it deserves as a target for organised crime. According to Gartner, more than 1.4 million American users have suffered from identity theft fraud, costing banks and card issuers £650m in direct losses in the past year and in the last two months two high-profile cases, the theft of AOL’s subscriber information and the case of expatriate Englishman, Philip Cummings, 35, who worked for New York Teledata Communications, a company that provides the software needed to run credit checks at America’s “big three” credit-history bureaux: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Cummings sold passwords and credit information to a Nigerian gang, who used them to cheat about 30,000 people out of an estimated $50 million-$100 million. Facing fifty years in jail for fraud, he told the court:” I normally don’t get into this kind of trouble.”

The evidence to date on the overall effectiveness of information security against the risk of identity theft should be enough to disturb citizens and government. Shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, referring to the NPfIT, has commented that “Special safeguards for some means concern for others” and the SAIC burglary should serve as a wake-up call to politicians of all parties that the theft of a database holding sensitive personal information can be more attractive, lucrative and present less risk to criminals than robbing a large bank.


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