Security Experts:

Canada's Human Resources and Skills Development Loses 583,000 Student Records

The Human Resources and Skills Development Canada has revealed that it has lost a portable hard drive that contained personal information on some 583,000 people who received student loans.

According to local media, the hard drive disappeared from an HRSD office in Gatineau, Quebec, in November. It contained personal information on 583,000 Canadians who were clients of the Canada Student Loans program from 2000 to 2006. According to the agency, the records lost contained names, social insurance numbers, birthdates, addresses, and loan balances.

Making things worse is the fact it took two months from the time of the initial discovery to the public’s notification last Friday. In addition, the drive itself was not approved for use by the federal government, and the requirement of encryption was not followed.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, said in a statement on Friday that RCMP has been notified, and that the federal privacy commissioner was as well. “I have expressed my disappointment to departmental officials at this unacceptable and avoidable incident in handling Canadians' personal information,” Finley added.

Unfortunately, incidents such as this have happened before. On December 28, HRSD reported that a USB drive that contained 5,000 records was lost. The drive contained PII including birthdates, social insurance numbers, and medical records.

Tony Busseri, the CEO of Route 1, a Canadian identity management firm, said that the incident is a perfect example of why policy alone isn’t enough. Accordingly, he added, the federal government must overhaul security policies and the technology used to secure digital assets. “Human error is a fact of life, and is why policy alone is not enough to protect any organization.”

In the aftermath, employees of HRSD are not longer allowed to use portable hard drives, and USB storage is not allowed to be connected to the network, unless the device has prior approval. A number has been established (1-866-885-1866) for Canadians to call in order to see if they have been impacted. 

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Steve Ragan is a security reporter and contributor for SecurityWeek. Prior to joining the journalism world in 2005, he spent 15 years as a freelance IT contractor focused on endpoint security and security training.
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