Laptops Stolen from Tonsler on Election Night

The bad news: Two laptops containing personal information about every voter in Charlottesville have been stolen, Henry Graff reports for NBC-29. The good news: The data was encrypted, so there has almost certainly been no breach of privacy. On election night, after things shut down for the evening, somebody tossed a cinderblock through the front door of Tonsler and made off with the two systems. Voters’ names, addresses, birth dates, and driver’s license numbers are stored on the computers. Laptops’ portability make them common targets of theft, and it’s inevitable that government systems containing confidential information will be stolen now and again. But if best practices are followed, and the data is encrypted, it’s not a disaster.

11/07 Update: The more I think about this, the more I figure that this story is fear-mongering on the part of NBC 29. (Compare to WINA or the DP’s coverage.) Wanting to know what else was in place, other than encryption, I checked with Charlottesville election official Rick Sincere, and he told me: “The laptops require multiple passwords to make them operable. The passwords are complex and difficult to remember.” They’re using Datacard’s Electronic Poll Book Solution, which you can read about in Rick’s October 2006 blog entry on the topic. Rick favors electronic voting, while I think it’s a security nightmare, but this is an example of everything apparently being done safely. If there’s reason to think that anybody’s confidential information has been breached here, Henry Graff hasn’t provided it—NBC 29 should stop making this claim if they can’t back it up.

11 thoughts on “Laptops Stolen from Tonsler on Election Night”

  1. I suspect their is a wide gulf between the ability to hack government encryption and someone who tosses cinder blocks into windows to steal laptops.

    That said, why was this information left sitting in a vulnerable place in an area that I would not even leave an iPod sitting around? Its freaking Tonsler park, home of the last fugly hooker sting, and a “dicey” area at best. Obama might walk in the local neighborhood at night, but I would not do so….

  2. danpri, I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t walk in your neighborhood at night, either. As the murder of McGowan has shown, no neighborhood is safe. Stop perpetrating the myth, perception and stereotype.

  3. VA law is actually too restrictive about who has access to voter registration information. For security purposes the name, DOB, address, political affiliation, and if they voted or not must be made public.

    This is because if you know your neighbor is on vacation, you need to be able to look up if he voted or not. If he did (not absentee) then you know someone committed fraud. If the address given is an empty lot or a business, you know that voter is probably not a real person. If someone is listed in multiple registries, you know they’re Anne Coulter and maybe someone might just get arrested. Christmas is coming soon after all :)

  4. Spare me the PC Cville Eye. There has never been any hookers walking in our little park in our little neighborhood. As to feeling safe, you can bet no one feels scared to walk on my street at night.

    You feel free to wander around Hardy drive at night any old time you wish, me I stay to the areas that do not have gunfire and the lot.

    But if you would like, how about we each pony up our laptops and you leave yours in Tonsler and I leave mine in our park and we see who is happy in the morning. Or are not so willing to put your actions as far as your words?

  5. There have been computers in Tonsler for years.
    I don’t know what little park you mean, but there has been vandalism in every city park for decades and it will continue.
    Tonsler Park is on Cherry Avenue, what does that have to do with Hardy Drive which is about three-quarters of a mile away? What do they have in common, mmmmm? One thing that is for certain, you are definitely not politically correct.

  6. Here is what they have in common…

    Now click on gun related crime and tell me, do the two areas I have talked look safer, or less safe? Where would you ask your realtor to start your housing search. DO you live in those red areas?

    And you still are talking big. You willing to leave your laptop out at Tonsler to back up your PC statements?

    Now, before you go throwing stones let make sure we all know that talk is cheap. My family does Runaway shelter emergency care, has had foster children, a wife that has worked with the lowest income people getting them health care, volunteer book buddies in lower schools, children that do missions trips out of country every summer etc etc.

    And you do know that “politically correctness” first came from Maos little Red Book during that wonderful era known as the Cultural Revolution and is almost exclusively a pejorative statement?” So if that is where you wish to hang your hat…

  7. Well, although my area is red, a house down the street sold recently for over $1M, so yes, my neighborhood would be on my list.
    If I owned a laptop, I wouldn’t leave it at Tonsler Park, Greenbrier Park or on your front porch, because I’m not guaranteed I’d ever see it again.
    I believe danpri is the one who brought up PC so I guess that’s where you hang your hat.
    “…we all know that talk is cheap. My family… ” Do you fit in with your family?
    “Now click on gun related crime and tell me, do the two areas I have talked look safer, or less safe?” Statistics do not dictate how safe one is. I’m not safe anywhere on the map so 0 = 0, 100 = 100.

  8. Waldo
    I wanted to add some more level of confidence to the discussion despite the reporting on 29 this evening. We have received many calls on this and I think it is important to be clear of the risk involved.
    – the data is protected to a level where it cannot be accessed by any passcode outside of the time the polls are open. That is an additional level of security built into the system
    – They have 3 levels of password protection, none of them are non-random
    – in the date of birth the year of birth is the only data that existed
    – there are no SS# present on the laptop and no voting information regarding Tuesday’s election.

    Having this out there originally was unfortunate as we were in an active investigation, but given the attention it has gotten we certainly want good information for folks to make informed decisions.

    My understanding from those that know is that they are essentially useless to anyone outside of getting a few dollars at a pawn shop. Your expertise in this area is certainly appreciated. Thanks for your fair reporting on this issue. Hope you don’t mind me including the press release below.

  9. Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a big deal had the city actually come clean about the whole thing in the first place.

    I understand there would be an investigation but at heart Charlottesville is a small town. The faster word gets around, the more the fear and the rumors spread. The media is just being “the media”, and in a larger city this would have been played up even more. Not that the fact excuses NBC from any sensational coverage. Charlottesville needs to wise up that when it comes to dealing with media, being upfront and honest about what you can release is always the best policy. Ducking phone calls is no way to handle any situation that could potentially be dicey.

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