Data breach leaves more than 700,000 exposed to potential identity theft

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US state’s health department has its system cracked by online criminals

A security breach at the health department in the US state of Utah has left the personal details of over 700,000 people exposed to the possibility of identity theft, KSL Utah has reported.

Data including everything from social security numbers to birthdates and addresses was uncovered by criminals looking to exploit the information – reported to be worth $25 million (£15.7 million) to hackers who profit from selling the files to fraudsters.

"It looks like the data wasn’t encrypted once they were through. So not only was there no first line of defence, once they got it, they basically got everything," said University of Utah professor Matt Knight.

With the rise of electronic document storage and the apparent phasing out of physical copies of records, the risk of hackers breaking into online systems and stealing information is ever present in the modern world, and this recent theft emphasises the dangers of failing to properly protect people’s data.

FBI agents have traced the hackers to Eastern Europe, reflecting how the worldwide reach of the web leaves servers exposed to criminals all over the planet.

The global market for selling on people’s personal information is reported to be worth an estimated $50 billion (£31 billion), and this lucrative business means thieves are constantly seeking new ways to get around security systems.

Considering that thousands of businesses, organisations and government departments use online records storage to manage their files, adequate data protection is essential to preventing breaches similar to the one that has occurred in Utah.

Indeed, this is important in a number of ways – including supporting continuity and maintaining trust among partners, consumers and the public – and losing or exposing such information can ruin a company’s reputation.

"It is tragic that not only data was breached, but now individual trust is also compromised," said the state’s governor Gary Herbert.

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