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8/14/2007
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Pfizer Reports Second Data Breach In Two Months

Two laptops containing identifying information on 950 people were stolen out of a consultant's car in Boston.

For the second time in two months, a security breach at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has put the personally identifying information on current and former employees at risk.

The company, which is the world's largest drugmaker, alerted Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of the May theft of two company laptops containing personal information of 950 people. The earlier security breach exposed information on 17,000 people.

In a letter to Pfizer employees, Lisa M. Goldman, out of Pfizer's privacy office, said two password-protected laptops owned by consulting firm Axia were stolen out of a car in Boston. The information contained employee names and Social Security numbers.

Letters about the data breach were posted online by TheDay.com. Pfizer could not be reached for comment.

Bernard Nash, a lawyer representing Pfizer, sent a letter to the state attorney general on July 20, notifying him of the data breach. He said the 950 people involved are health care professionals who were or were considering providing the company with contract services. He also noted that additional information, such as home addresses, cell phone numbers, and e-mail addresses, also were compromised.

"All data security incidents are unfortunate, and Pfizer and Axia are committed to maintaining the confidentiality and security of data," said Nash in the letter. "Pfizer is working with Axia to improve data security protections and will apply the lessons learned from this incident to its work with other contractors and its own employees, as well."

Blumenthal said in his own letter back to Nash that he has concerns about the amount of time it took Pfizer to notify people about the breach.

"Given the speed of communications and the possibility that credit card fraud and identity theft can arise from breaches of personally identifying information, time is of the essence when notifying consumers," he added. "The sooner consumers are notified that their personally identifying information is at risk, the sooner they can respond and prevent further harm."

Last month, Forbes.com reported that a former Pfizer employee who was among the 17,000 workers who had their personal information posted online is suing Pfizer. The suit asks for long-term identity theft insurance and a fund to pay any damages for all 17,000 people.

Pfizer reported that this spring identifying information on the 17,000 had been accidentally posted online.

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