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Security risks at NIH?

The National Institutes of Health this week warned its employees that Apple Macintosh laptops cannot be encrypted using the agency's software, leaving unprotected sensitive data such as personal information (including linkurl:social security numbers);http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/09/AR2008040903680.html from thousands of clinical trial participants. In February, a laptop containing the unencrypted personal information from more than 3,000 patients participating in

By | April 10, 2008

The National Institutes of Health this week warned its employees that Apple Macintosh laptops cannot be encrypted using the agency's software, leaving unprotected sensitive data such as personal information (including linkurl:social security numbers);http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/09/AR2008040903680.html from thousands of clinical trial participants. In February, a laptop containing the unencrypted personal information from more than 3,000 patients participating in an NIH clinical trial was linkurl:stolen;http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/23/AR2008032301753.html from an NIH researcher's car trunk, prompting the agency to mandate the encryption of all laptops used by NIH staffers by April 4. Earlier this week, the agency posted guidelines for portable device encryption on its Web site, which said that Macs would be exempt from this deadline because the program the agency uses, PointSec, was in beta testing. I downloaded this document on Monday (Apr 7) from the NIH Web site, where it appears to no longer be available. So there's a potential security risk, but the size of it depends on how many NIH employees use Mac laptops to store sensitive data. The answer to this question has so far proved elusive. I've called the NIH's linkurl:Center for Information Technology,;http://cit.nih.gov/ and left messages on voice mailboxes and with administrative assistants. These calls were not returned. I Emailed several NIH scientists I have interviewed in the past, and they either failed to reply to my message, declined to comment on the matter, or forwarded my request to the NIH press office. I got a call from an NIH press officer, who told me he'd try to get me an NIH Mac laptop user estimate. That estimate failed to materialize by the time I posted this blog. Even an official at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology press office could not estimate how many NIH employees use Mac laptops. From my experience mingling with scientists at meetings and conferences and in their linkurl:labs,;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/15038/ I know that Mac laptops are common sights. Are you an NIH employee who uses a Mac laptop? Do you know someone who does? In your opinion, what percentage of life scientists uses Mac laptops? You can post a comment linkurl:here,;http://www.the-scientist.com/forum/addcomment/54534/ even anonymously.
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