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July 10th, 2008

Investment Firm Clients Personal Data Exposed Over P2P Networks

The Alexandria, Va.-based investment firm last week had to notify about 2,000 of its clients that their names, Social Security numbers and birthdates had potentially been exposed on the LimeWire P2P network, according to a story published Wednesday by The Washington Post. Among the individuals whose personal data was exposed in the Wagner compromise was Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. The leak wasn’t discovered until last month, when one of its online readers found the data about Wagner’s clients while using the LimeWire network.

Wagner didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the incident. But the Post reported that the compromise resulted from the use of LimeWire’s file-sharing software by a Wagner employee. The employee apparently downloaded the software to his company-issued PC last year, so he could share music and other media files with fellow LimeWire users. But the software ended up exposing all of the contents on the employee’s computer to other users of the P2P network.

The P2P software offered on networks such as LimeWire and Kazaa is designed to help users easily share media files, and to aid them in finding files on the computers of other users. The problem is that if P2P users aren’t careful, the software can expose not just the media files they want to share but almost everything else on their computers.

Numerous organizations have suffered data leaks as a result of such carelessness. Last year, for instance, the personal data of about 17,000 Pfizer employees was exposed after an employee installed unauthorized P2P software on her laptop. And at a Senate hearing last year, lawmakers heard testimony from several witnesses about the abundance of classified government and military documents as well as corporate data freely available on P2P networks.

The data said to be available included a full diagram of the Pentagon’s secret backbone network infrastructure, complete with IP addresses and password-change scripts; contractor data on radio-frequency manipulation techniques for dealing with improvised explosive devices in Iraq; the complete minutes of a board meeting held at a large financial services company; and the detailed launch plan of a start-up company, complete with growth targets and other business forecasts.

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