a data breach story with a twist…

Public enemy #1?

Stories of data breaches have become annoyingly normal, so when Affinity Health Plans announced the accidental disclosure of personal information on over 400,000 employees, former employees, customers, applicants and business partners, most security folk just sighed, thanked their lucky stars that they didn’t work for that particular company and moved on. However, this breach was different than many of the other data losses that have been in the news recently.

Unlike your standard lost or stolen laptop or misplaced USB thumb drive, this breach resulted from the return of a leased multifunction copier to its owner. Like most business copiers, this one had a hard drive on which copies of documents copied, faxed or scanned were retained. When the copier was returned to the leasing company, Affinity failed to scrub the hard drive of this stored information, which “may have included Social Security Numbers, dates of birth and medical information,” according to a company press release

The actual risk to the people whose information was found on this particular copier is actually quite small; the documents were found on one of four copiers purchased by a CBS News investigation team in NJ.  The other three copiers’ hard drives contained data from the Buffalo, NY Police Department (Narcotics and Sex Crimes related documents) and a construction company (building plans, checks, pay stubs and employee info).  However, the records described in this disclosure represent only a tiny fraction of the sensitive information routinely disposed of without proper security measures when copiers are sold or returned to lessors.

Affinity (and I would assume the other organizations whose data was found) have started taking corrective actions, such as inventorying its copiers to identify those with onboard storage, finding any other copiers which may have been returned to vendors recently, and making arrangements to ensure that devices are scrubbed before they are returned to vendors.

These types of data breaches are eminently avoidable;  Manufacturers of multifunction devices such as Xerox and Sharp provide security software for their products which implements encryption and secure deletion of stored documents.  By making sure that your devices come with these features and properly configuring them, you can plug this potentially damaging and embarassing hole in your information security defenses.

So, what are the takeaways for security professionals?

First, take a look at your existing multifunction copiers and make sure that they are equipped with the manufacturer’s security software and that the security features are properly configured and active.

Next, make sure that your organization’s specifications for the purchase or lease of copier/scanner/printer devices require security features such as encryption of stored information as well as the ability to securely erase all information from the hard drive.

Then, make sure that configuration process for new multifunction copiers includes setting the security options properly.

Now, add these devices to the list of things with blinking lights that are examined during security assessments.  While you are at it, remember that these devices have network interfaces as well as upgradable software which could have vulnerabilities.  Are you patching your multifunction devices?

Finally, have a process for decommissioning multifunction devices which includes wiping all data from them before they are returned to lessors, sold, donated or recycled.

As the non computer devices in our offices and homes get more intelligent, they also become more interesting to attackers.  As an infosec professional, they should be more interesting to you – before your organization makes the news.

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