October 2013 in review: Another loss of unencrypted data by a Canadian organization


The loss of unencrypted data from a municipality, thumbs down for the sale of a division of Manitoba Telecom, and a determined no from Ottawa on the sale of Mobilicity to Telus were among the highlights of the month.

Another “oops” moment in the annals of security took place this month when the head of  Ontario’s Peel Region had to apologize after an unencrypted SD card with personal health information of 18,000 clients was stolen from a staffer’s car.

“We take our responsibility to protect personal health information very seriously,” Peel chairman Emil Kolb said in the statement. “We did not do that and I apologize to all residents of Peel – but most importantly to those who were directly affected – for this breach.”

The card contained the name, address, birth date/age, marital status and assessment information of clients who were in the Peel Public Health department’s healthy babies and children program from March, 2010 to August, 2011, as well as a small number from earlier dates.

The good news was there were no Social Insurance or Health Card numbers on the card, which meant it was unlikely the information could immediately be used to forge an ID.

The bad news is that it happened at all. In fact, it appears the staffer either ignored or forgot about Peel policies that make it mandatory to encrypt personal data on mobile devices.

Still, it doesn’t take much to have tough IT practices that prevent unencrypted data from being downloaded.

By coincidence, the federal privacy commissioner reported the number of data loses or breaches for the 12 month period ending March 30 hit a record high.

Also in October the Harper government further limited the options for the future of Wind Mobile when it turned down a bid by a foreign company to buy the Allstream national business network of Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS).

Accelero Capital Holdings, led by Wind’s original financial backer, Egyptian telecom mogul Naguib Sawiris, had offered to buy Allstream. Wind chairman and CEO Anthony Lacavera had publicly talked about teaming with Sawiris to offter to take complete control the startup wireless company from its current lead investor, VimpelCom. Combining Wind with Allstream would give the startup access to a national fibre optic network.

But Allstream is the federal government’s data services carrier and having a foreign-owned company own it made Ottawa uncomfortable.

Meanwhile Telus got good news and bad news: The Harper government again refused to let it buy startup Mobilicity before a five-year ban on the company transferring its AWS spectrum to an incumbent carrier. That ban expires in February, 2014. However, it did get Industry Canada’s blessing to buy Public Mobile, which has the more common PCS spectrum.

The month also saw ITWC senior writer Nestor Arellano in Tokyo at an Ericsson conference on the future of telecommunications.

“We are headed for an extreme app demand of a projected growth of about five time what we have today,” said Cecilia Atterwell, head of Ericsson’s Consumer Lab, told reporters. “This is a call out to government agencies, device manufacturers, carriers and businesses that if they intend to remain relevant to their clientele, they need to be prepared to roll out these type of mobile services within the next three to five years.”

Also in October I covered the annual SecTor security conference in Toronto, conference roundup, a good place to hear about the many failures — and a few successes — of network security. You can find my reports on a discussion on the limits to ethical hacking, a consultant who criticized Hadoop’s lack of security and why the so-called DevOps strategy creates more secure software.

One of the more important stories was that a private-sector backed round the clock computer emergency response CERT team was about to be launched.

Elsewhere, Cisco Canada announced funding for a health research chair at the University of Alberta.

And there was some good news from BlackBerry: BlackBerry Messenger for iOS and BBM for Android proved wildly successful, generating over 5 million downloads. The company still has to show how it can monetize the service.


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