Cyber Strategies for a World at War

OPEN SOURCE AGGREGATION & ANALYSIS

VA settlement demonstrates just how costly lax security can be

By William Jackson
February 02, 2009
GCN

If you want another good reason to make sure your sensitive data is adequately locked down, look no farther than the Veterans Affairs Department, which last week agreed to pay $20 million to settle a class action lawsuit over the 2006 loss of a laptop containing records with personal information about up to 26.5 million veterans and active duty personnel.

That’s a lot of money, and it will be paid from taxpayers’ dollars, but VA got off lucky. The suit originally asked for $1,000 for each person whose data was exposed, which could have been more than $26 billion. That’s nearly enough to bail out a good-sized bank.

The settlement demonstrates that the repercussions of exposing data can be long-lasting and that the cost can go far beyond the immediate expense of cleaning up the breach. For companies it has long been known that negative publicity resulting from public notification of a data breach can quickly translate into millions of dollars of lost shareholder value as stock prices tumble. Agencies do not have to worry about stock prices, but the threat of other costs is real. The VA agreed to the settlement even though the department has said there is no evidence that the information on the stolen laptop was used or than any person involved was harmed by it.

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