Massive VA Data Loss Prompts Concerns Over Data Security
A substantial data loss by the Veterans Affairs Department has raised concern over data security in government, after some 464,000 personal records were permanently deleted accidentally at one of the department’s data centers.
The files, including active loan accounts and details of departmental grants to hundreds of thousands of veterans, were deleted by mistake as a direct result of human error.
“I understand the Department of Veterans Affairs is under much scrutiny due to the growing claims backlog, which now stands at 860,000. Due to that scrutiny, the 464,000 lost files should have garnered more transparency and communication. I trust the department is committed to providing the best service to the men and women who have proudly served our nation, but this incident only further exacerbates the frustration many veterans feel from the claims processing process.”
Vault backup systems are used to facilitate external data storage. Where organizations have important or sensitive data, this kind of setup can help ensure data is backed up and protected in the event of loss or damage. However, in the case of Veterans Affairs, there was no secondary backup of this data. This is why database replication is essential.
The news is the latest in a series of mishaps at the department, which is currently working through a backlog of 860,000 claims from veterans and their families. The claims concern veterans and serving personnel who are entitled to the Specially Adapted Housing grant.
The incident took place in May at a datacenter in Austin, TX. An administrator saw the files out of place in the VA’s hosted application and chose to remove them from the system. Now questions are being asked about measures to prevent similar data loss in the future. Backups and other loss prevention strategies are to be introduced to prevent future destructive losses of this nature.
Veterans Affairs have confirmed they are now asking applicants to re-upload their data. There is no indication at the moment of how long it could take to replace the data that has been lost, and no indication as to how heavily this will contribute to the departmental backlog.
Data loss can occur through human error and system error, and both have the potential to cause serious difficulties for organizations. Particularly with sensitive data like that in the VA case, organizations need to be more concerned with the safety and integrity of the systems that manage their information.
Government departments have a further duty to those they serve. Sen. Portman, among others, is suggesting that personal data dealing with financial and other private veterans affairs should be treated with the utmost sensitivity by those departments that hold it.
Data protection and system security is expected to become a more significant issue, as privacy concerns over big data become increasingly relevant. Until organizations and government departments take control over the management of their data, they will remain open to this kind of scrutiny and criticism from industry commentators.