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Boston data firm loses Calif. bank tapes

No signs of ID theft; slip was 2d in 6 weeks for Iron Mountain

Boston's Iron Mountain Inc., the world's largest data-archiving company, said yesterday that it has misplaced data backup tapes belonging to City National Bank of Los Angeles. The loss happened April 28, about a month after Iron Mountain lost data tapes containing the personal information of about 600,000 employees of Time Warner Inc.

The latest data loss was revealed by the bank, which began mailing warnings to its customers in late June, about two months after the tapes were lost.

''We notified our clients as soon as it was safe to do so," bank spokeswoman Linda Mueller said. ''We didn't want to jeopardize an ongoing investigation."

Mueller would not say how many customers might be affected, or what kinds of information are stored on the tapes. But Mueller said that there is no evidence that the tapes have fallen into the hands of identity thieves, who could use the information to empty victims' bank accounts or obtain credit under false pretenses.

Iron Mountain senior vice president Ken Rubin said that Iron Mountain picked up the tapes from a firm that performs data processing for the bank.

''In the course of making a delivery, a simple, routine delivery, we lost a container of tapes," he said.

Iron Mountain contacted City National and the US Secret Service as soon as the loss was discovered. As part of the investigation, Iron Mountain employees who may have had access to the tapes were ordered to undergo polygraph tests.

''The clear consensus was the tapes were just lost," said Rubin. ''There was no evidence of any foul play."

Rubin said that there have been several losses of digital records at Iron Mountain this year, but that this is to be expected. The company makes 5 million data tape pickups and deliveries each year, said Rubin, and a small number are bound to go astray. Iron Mountain urges its customers to use encryption software to scramble the contents of their data tapes, so that they can't be read by unauthorized people. But according to Rubin, ''only 7 percent of companies always encrypt their data."

Partly it's because encrypting such large amounts of data is time-consuming and may require upgrading a company's entire data archiving system.

''It's more involved than just flipping a switch," said Rubin.

Mueller would not say whether City National encrypts its backup tapes. But she said that the data on the tapes ''was in a format that would be very difficult if not impossible to access."

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

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