A Tale of Lost Tapes

Neither Time Warner nor Iron Mountain's backup service can account for sensitive lost tapes

May 3, 2005

2 Min Read
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Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX), parent of a firm that offers Ethernet-based IT services, has lost a truckload of backup tapes containing information on hundreds of thousands of employees.

In a statement late today, the company acknowledged the loss of tapes containing information on past and present employees and their families that was being trucked to Iron Mountain Inc. (NYSE: IRM) facilities for storage.

"The missing tapes contained company data including names and U.S. Social Security numbers of: current and former U.S.-based employees of Time Warner and its current and former affiliates (and U.S. citizens working for the company abroad); some of their dependents and beneficiaries; and certain other individuals who have provided services to the company," stated Larry Cockell, senior VP and chief security officer at Time Warner, in a statement.

Company spokeswoman Kathy McKiernan won't say exactly where the tapes came from within the organization, whether the information was also backed up on disk, or whether the tapes were encrypted, but she says the data on the tapes was "in a form difficult to understand." Details are being withheld in order not to compromise an investigation being overseen by the U.S. Secret Service, in which both Time Warner and Iron Mountain are involved.

Iron Mountain did not respond to calls and email requesting comment. But on April 21, that company issued a press release acknowledging four recent incidents of lost backup tapes and admonishing customers to make sure to encrypt their data before trucking it to the firm's sites."Iron Mountain performs upwards of five million pick-ups and deliveries of backup tapes each year, with greater than 99.999% reliability. Nevertheless, since the beginning of the year, four events of human error at Iron Mountain resulted in the loss of a customer's computer backup tapes," the Iron Mountain release states. It goes on to quote Iron Mountain CEO Richard Reese: " 'But even Iron Mountain is not immune from human error. The only effective means to protect unauthorized access to data is the use of encryption.' "

Time Warner indicated in its public statements that even though the incident occurred March 22, it's only now that the company has determined that going public with the information about the loss won't hamper the investigation.

Time Warner has posted information on its Website to help any employees affected track their personal data through several credit agencies. The company also has arranged to offer the affected U.S. employees free-of-charge Equifax Credit Watch Gold 3-in-1 Monitoring service for 12 months.

It's noteworthy that Time Warner Cable, a division of Time Warner Inc., uses Ethernet to support IT services that include disaster recovery and use gear from Copan Systems Inc. and Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT). (See Time Warner Cable Offers Ethernet, Storage, Storage Services Surge, Time Warner Picks Nortel, and Time Warner Cable Picks Copan.)

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch0

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