Identity data on more than 26 million U.S. veterans and spouses has been stolen, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson said that a VA data analyst took home a laptop that contained names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth for up to 26.5 million veterans and some spouses. The computer was stolen from the analyst's home in a recent burglary.
"Authorities believe it is unlikely the perpetrators targeted the items because of any knowledge of the data contents," said the VA in a statement. "It is possible that they remain unaware of the information which they posses or of how to make use of it."
Even so, the VA plans to send out notification letters to affected veterans, who can also go online to FirstGov and the VA's Web site for more information. A call center has also been set up to take telephone queries. The center will open Monday, and will be manned from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. EDT Monday-Saturday. The toll-free number is 1-800-333-4636.
The VA data analyst, whose name has not been released, took home the information in violation of agency rules, and has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.
Nicholson said that he has briefed the Attorney General and the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as well as the co-chairs of the President's Identity Theft Task Force. The task force has begun working with credit bureaus to make sure veterans receive the free credit report entitled under law.
The task force is also meeting Monday to coordinate a response, recommend ways to protect affected veterans, and strengthen safeguards to prevent another such breach, said the VA.
According to the PrivacyRightsClearinghouse, which maintains a list of all data breaches, thefts, and losses since February 2005, the VA incident is the largest since the summer 2005 hack of CardSystems.