Lost backup tapes affect 4.9 million current, former military

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Backup tapes containing the personal information of nearly five million current and former U.S. soldiers, who received treatment at military clinics and hospitals, has gone missing.

Data on the backup tapes belonged to Tricare, a health benefits provider for military personnel, retirees and their dependents, but the information had been entrusted to Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), a high-tech defense contractor, which reported the breach.

The compromised data belonged to 4.9 million people who, from 1992 to Sept. 7 of this year, sought care at military treatment facilities in the San Antonio, Texas area, according to a Tricare statement. The data included Social Security numbers, addresses and phone numbers, in addition to health assets such as clinical notes, lab test reports and prescription information.

According to SAIC, retrieving data on the tapes, which were stolen from a company employee's car, is not likely to happen because doing so "requires knowledge of and access to specific hardware and software, and knowledge of the system and data structure."

The data, however, was not encrypted because the government facility at which the backup was performed was not capable of encrypting the data in a way that meets federal standards, an SAIC statement said.

"The government was seeking a compliant encryption solution that would work with the operating system when the backup tapes were taken," SAIC said.

The tapes were lost Sept. 14, but Tricare didn't publicly reveal the breach until Wednesday. In the statement, it defended the two-week delay.

"The exact circumstance surrounding this data loss remain the subject of an ongoing investigation," the statement said. "We did not want to raise undue alarm in our beneficiaries and so wanted to determine the degree of risk this data loss represented before making notifications."

Victims are encouraged to place a free, 90-day fraud alert on their credit through the Federal Trade Commission website.

Representatives from SAIC and Tricare did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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