Dec. 18--TOMS RIVER -- Hundreds of Ocean County employees have been notified their personal data might have been compromised as a result of the theft of two laptops from the Newark corporate headquarters of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Freeholder Gerry P. Little said Wednesday.
"On those two computers were the personal information of somewhere in the neighborhood of a million subscribers, including thousands of our citizens here in the county and hundreds of our county employees, potentially leaving open the opportunity for identity theft," Little said during a regular meeting of the Board of Freeholders, explaining Social Security numbers were among the data stolen on the laptops.
Little and Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari have sent a letter to Robert A. Marino, chief executive officer of Horizon, calling on the company to extend its offer of one-year identity theft protection to five years and to create a liability fund to assist any customers who might be the victim of identity theft, Little said.
The freeholders also have forwarded a copy of their letter to lawmakers in the state legislative districts representing Ocean County in hope that new laws can be made to further protect residents from similar breaches in security in the future.
The unencrypted password-protected laptops, which were cable-locked to employee workstations, were stolen sometime during the weekend of Nov. 1. Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state's largest insurer, said Friday that it notified Newark police on Nov. 4 and began an internal investigation.
A review by outside computer forensic experts found the computers might have contained files with differing amounts of member information, such as name, address, member identification number, date of birth, and, in some cases, a Social Security number or clinical information, the insurer said in a statement.
Given how the stolen laptops were configured, Horizon said it was not certain that all of the member information on them is accessible.
"We did this action (sent the letter) on behalf of the entire (freeholder) board, to protect the people of Ocean County and our county employees who have been impacted, potentially impacted," Little said. "Hopefully the law enforcement community will track these down, but the notification went out about six weeks after the actual theft, so who knows where the information now is?"
Vicari said he also hopes Horizon would take additional steps in the future to better secure its computer hardware and data. The legislation that the Board of Freeholders would like to see emerge from this ordeal is for stiffer prison sentences and fines for people who are found guilty of trafficking in such data.
"Not only to protect the employees of Ocean County, but everyone in the state of New Jersey," Vicari said. "One million people, I mean that's an unbelievable amount of people and you would think they would take more precautions than they have to have laptops taken."
This story includes material previously published in the Asbury Park Press.
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