ADP coding error exposed McKesson employees’ SSN and wages (updated to include statement from ADP)

Add McKesson to those affected by a breach involving ADP that was disclosed in June.  The breach also affected employees of the city of Houston and  US Airways, as reported previously on this blog.

On August 9, McKesson notified the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office that it was sending out notifications to some of their employees that their names, Social Security numbers, and gross wages may have been embedded in PDF tax statement files of other employees prepared by ADP for the firm.  The problem, caused by a coding error, existed between 2010 and 2012, but only affected those who viewed their tax statement inlines and then downloaded and printed a copy of the pdf file. The coding error was detected on April 29 and remedied on May 4.

According to McKesson’s explanation of the problem, it does not sound like people would readily spot other employees’ embedded information, but ADP has offered those affected a free year of credit monitoring.  The San Francisco-based McKesson distributes pharmaceuticals at a wholesale level and provides health information technology, medical supplies, and care management tools. No patient information was involved in this breach, and McKesson does not indicate when it was first notified by ADP. Letters to affected McKesson employees from ADP began going out on July 29.

Given the description of the breach as an application error, it’s hard to imagine that this wouldn’t apply to all of ADP’s clients who made tax statements available online to their employees. According to their recent financial report, ADP serves approximately 620,000 clients in more than 125 countries, but the number using this particular service is not listed. ADP did not immediately respond to a phone call from inquiring as to how many of their clients were notified of this breach.

Update: ADP sent the following statement:

ADP recently discovered a software code error that affected a subset of employees from a small number of clients for whom ADP provides electronic tax document services. The issue has now been corrected, so any new tax forms being produced do not have this problem.

Although ADP believes that the risk of exposure is very low, the company has reached out to all impacted clients and offered to provide their affected employees with standard credit monitoring services.

ADP maintains many safeguards to protect confidential client information, upgrades our security and systems whenever appropriate and truly regrets any inconvenience caused by this error.

They declined, however, to disclose how many clients or how many employees of those clients were notified of the breach. A spokesperson responded, “To avoid compromising the security of those employees impacted, I am not comfortable disclosing additional details.”

Frankly, I don’t see how disclosing the number of clients or number of employees compromises anyone’s security at this point, and transparency is generally a better strategy than letting a story dribble out in bits. I suspect I’ll find and report more on this breach over time. So instead of it being a low-risk breach that was contained in one news cycle, it may wind up being in a number of news cycles.

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