Agency employees had been told of the October 31 theft of a laptop containing the personal data from a locked car in an email message Tuesday from Richard Keegan Jr., associate deputy administrator at NASA.
In the email, Keegan told employees that the stolen laptop contained sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) on a large number of NASA employees, contractors and others. Unspecified NASA documents were also stolen from the car, he added.
"Although the laptop was password protected, it did not have whole disk encryption software, which means the information on the laptop could be accessible to unauthorized individuals," Keegan warned employees in the email.
Responding to questions from Computerworld today, NASA spokesman Allard Beutel acknowledged that agency waited nearly two weeks to publicly disclose the breach. He said that in the interim, NASA was working with law enforcement personnel to recover the laptop, and was working to determine exactly whose personal data was stored on it.
"NASA immediately began working with local law enforcement after the laptop was stolen, with the goal of recovering the computer and protecting the sensitive data," Beutel said in the agency's first public update since disclosing the theft to employees. "At the same time, NASA IT specialists and security officials began performing an exhaustive automated and manual analysis of the data to make sure everyone with information on the stolen laptop is notified."