Opinion: Washington’s Labor and Industries has had a data breach – Is the government ever going to protect our data?

Mark Harmsworth of the Washington Policy Center discusses a recent identity theft that took place at Washington’s Labor and Industry Tukwila facility of hard drives, laptops, cellphones, office equipment, access cards and other items.

Mark Harmsworth of the Washington Policy Center discusses a recent identity theft that took place at Washington’s Labor and Industry Tukwila facility of hard drives, laptops, cellphones, office equipment, access cards and other items

Mark Harmsworth
Washington Policy Center

Washington’s Labor and Industry (L&I), reported on April 29 that a theft had occurred at its Tukwila facility of hard drives, laptops, cellphones, office equipment, access cards and other items.

Mark Harmsworth, Washington Policy Center
Mark Harmsworth, Washington Policy Center

The hard drives held agency files which may have contained the personally identifiable information of people who have had business with the regional office [Tukwila] location including some L&I employees’ dependents’ personal information, according to L&I.

This, again, raises the issue of whether the state has the ability to protect Washington residents’ data appropriately. The breach is the latest in a series of high profile data leaks from state agencies, including the state auditor’s office who is tasked with auditing breaches.

L&I has indicated that the data stolen would not be accessible without considerable effort. This is not the standard that is required to protect data. The industry standard for data protection is an AES-256 encryption algorithm or better.

With today’s technology-based systems, the reality is that no system is 100% safe, but in this case several reasonable steps appear not to have been taken by those handling the data. Similar to the data breach that occurred at WSU in 2017, the data that should have been stored on secure servers was stolen while it was outside of its intended normal use. In the WSU case, a researcher had data stored on a local drive for analysis and did not follow the appropriate data protection procedures.

The government has a lot of very sensitive data concerning Washington residents stored on servers, hard drives and laptops.

Private companies are required to follow laws to protect both the security and the privacy of consumer data and recent proposals such as the Washington Privacy Act should also be applied to state agencies.

It’s time the agencies take the protection of personal data seriously.

For those concerned that their data may have been part of the breach, L&I has set up a call center for more information and steps you can take to protect your accounts and credit. It can be reached on (833) 940-2302.

Mark Harmsworth is the director of the Small Business Center at the Washington Policy Center.


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