Walter Haydock works for PreVeil (@EndToEndEncrypt), a Boston-based cybersecurity company.
If the Internal Revenue Service’s Data Retrieval Tool had used end-to-end encryption from the start, the federal government may have been able to avoid a privacy breach that ultimately occurred over the past year.
This tool allowed prospective students to transfer their tax return data to the Education Departmentfor use in loan applications. Earlier this spring, the agency disabled it because identity thieves had used the tool to receive the personal financial data of potentially thousands of taxpayers in an effort to file fraudulent returns.
Get the best federal technology news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.
One of the key lessons from this breach is that deploying default end-to-end encryption should be a priority for all enterprises handling sensitive information, especially the government. Following the presidents recent cybersecurity executive order, which urges federal agencies to move to the cloud, properly securing data there is more critical than ever.
Because ofa statutory quirk, the IRS could not transmit taxpayer information directly to the Education Department. Instead, the agency relied on loan seekers to obtain their tax return information themselves through the Data Retrieval Tool, and then include it in their applications.
Unfortunately, the IRS tool had flaws that allowed identity thieves to masquerade as loan applicants. These cyber criminals could use already stolen personal information to download their victims tax data and subsequently file fraudulent returns.
Although hackers took advantage of the lack of proper authentication procedures necessary to access the Data Retrieval Tool, end-to-end encryption still could have saved the day. This technology cryptographically makes data unreadable at the start of its journey and only ever renders that data legible at the devices of authorized recipientsnever at any intermediate point.
Those seeking student loans do not need to see the tax data they forward with their applications; they only need to transmit it from the IRS to the Education Department. As a result, the two organizations should have designed the Data Retrieval Tool to forward taxpayer data in end-to-end encrypted form, in which case the stolen information would have appeared as complete gibberish to the identity thieves who obtained it.
Unfortunately, government officials seem to have only considered this course of action after the major cybersecurity incident that resulted from their initial oversight, at which point they took down the Data Retrieval Tool for several months to add a comparable feature.
Bringing federal technology into the 21st century while keeping it secure will by no means be a simple task. Even though its systems were not to blame for the aforementioned incident, the Education Departmentis an example of the challenges the government faces in this regard.
Despite a chorus of warnings, especially from Congress, the department used more than 180 different data management systems as of 2016, many of which are outdated and insecure. Maintaining nearly 140 million unique Social Security numbers of ordinary Americans, the department has nonetheless ignored many security recommendations from its own inspector general.
Moving federal systems to the cloud, as the presidents recent guidance encourages, will assist in consolidating and protecting such arrays of overlapping systems, but doing so is not without risks. Although convenient, data stored in the public cloud can be an easy target for hackers, if not properly protected.
Fortunately, a new generation of secure, easy-to-use and competitively priced end-to-end encrypted file-sharing applications is now coming to market. These cheap and effective tools can help government organizations secure the data of their citizens more effectively, while still providing easy access to appropriate stakeholders through innovative security features.
As the Data Retrieval Tool incident demonstrates, limiting access to sensitive data through well-designed security measures is critical. Using end-to-end encryption by default is one readily available way to do so, which will more effectively protect American citizens in the cyber domain.
- What Is Encryption? | Surveillance Self-Defense - December 4th, 2017
- Comodo Disk Encryption Download - softpedia.com - December 1st, 2017
- Encryption - Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - November 24th, 2017
- BitLocker Drive Encryption Overview - technet.microsoft.com - November 23rd, 2017
- The Encrypting File System - technet.microsoft.com - November 18th, 2017
- FBI cant break the encryption on Texas shooters smartphone - November 13th, 2017
- DOJ: Strong encryption that we dont have access to is ... - November 13th, 2017
- DOJ Fires Up New War With Apple Over Encryption - November 12th, 2017
- Security Awareness - Encryption | Office of Information ... - October 15th, 2017
- Data Encryption and Decryption (Windows) - October 14th, 2017
- Trumps DOJ tries to rebrand weakened encryption as responsible ... - October 11th, 2017
- How to encrypt (almost) anything | PCWorld - September 22nd, 2017
- Private Internet Access | VPN Encryption - September 21st, 2017
- Encryption Substitutes | Privacy | Encryption - September 21st, 2017
- Data Encryption: Hardware & Software Security: Online ... - September 21st, 2017
- How To Enable BitLocker Drive Encryption In Windows 10? - September 21st, 2017
- PGP Encryption Tool - iGolder - September 21st, 2017
- encryption - How to encrypt String in Java - Stack Overflow - September 21st, 2017
- Encryption Software Market, Size, Trends and Forecast 2020 - September 21st, 2017
- Encryption Definition - Tech Terms - September 20th, 2017
- Why You Should Be Encrypting Your Devices and How to Easily Do It - Gizmodo - September 6th, 2017
- Black Hats, White Hats, and Hard Hats The Need for Encryption in Mining and Resources - Australian Mining - September 6th, 2017
- How can enterprises secure encrypted traffic from cloud applications? - TechTarget - September 6th, 2017
- Encryption Explained - Arizona Daily Wildcat - September 6th, 2017
- News in brief: Call to link encryption to ID; Facebook maps everyone ... - Naked Security - September 2nd, 2017
- 'Independent' gov law reviewer wants users preemptively identified before they're 'allowed' to use encryption - The Register - September 2nd, 2017
- High-Dimensional Quantum Encryption Performed in Real-World ... - Futurism - September 2nd, 2017
- It's Time to Replace Your Encryption-Key Spreadsheet - Data Center Knowledge - September 2nd, 2017
- Legislation to limit smartphone encryption 'may be necessary,' deputy AG Rosenstein says - Washington Times - August 31st, 2017
- Cloud Encryption Market by Component, Service Model, Organization Size, Vertical And Region - Global Forecast to ... - Markets Insider - August 31st, 2017
- Cipher Suites: Ciphers, Algorithms and Negotiating Security Settings - Hashed Out by The SSL Store (registration) (blog) - August 31st, 2017
- Encryption in Office 365 - Office 365 - August 29th, 2017
- Need-to-Know Only: Use Encryption to Make Data Meaningless to ... - Security Intelligence (blog) - August 29th, 2017
- Four strategies to prevent data encryption from hijacking your network - Digital News Asia - August 29th, 2017
- Amber Rudd is wrong - real people do want end-to-end encryption - ITProPortal - August 29th, 2017
- Why encryption is for everyone - IFEX - August 29th, 2017
- 4D quantum encryption successful in first real-world test - New Atlas - New Atlas - August 29th, 2017
- For the First Time Ever, Quantum Communication is Demonstrated in Real-World City Conditions - Futurism - August 26th, 2017
- High-Dimensional Quantum Encryption Takes Place in Real-World ... - Photonics.com - August 26th, 2017
- Hedvig Bakes Encryption into Software-Defined Storage Platform - IT Business Edge (blog) - August 26th, 2017
- Hedvig storage upgrade adds flash tier, encryption options - TechTarget - August 26th, 2017
- How to use EFS encryption to encrypt individual files and folders on Windows 10 - Windows Central - August 26th, 2017
- Cloud Encryption Market Worth 2401.9 Million USD by 2022 - Markets Insider - August 23rd, 2017
- To Protect Genetic Privacy, Encrypt Your DNA - WIRED - August 23rd, 2017
- Data Encryption in OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online - August 21st, 2017
- Researchers use encryption to keep patients' DNA private - Engadget - August 21st, 2017
- Additional proof that Lancaster County Commissioners should reconsider encrypting police transmissions - LancasterOnline - August 21st, 2017
- iPhone Secure Enclave firmware encryption key leaked - TechTarget - August 21st, 2017
- Encryption, speed push the modern mainframe into the future - TechTarget - August 21st, 2017
- Hardware encryption vs software encryption: the simple guide - Kroll Ontrack UK (press release) (blog) - August 21st, 2017
- Encryption Technology Could Protect the Privacy of Your DNA - Gizmodo - August 21st, 2017
- Beginner's guide to Windows 10 encryption - Windows Central - August 18th, 2017
- Encryption key for iPhone 5s Touch ID exposed, opens door to further research - AppleInsider (press release) (blog) - August 18th, 2017
- How security pros look at encryption backdoors - Help Net Security - August 18th, 2017
- The Laws of Mathematics and the Laws of Nations: The Encryption Debate Revisited - Lawfare (blog) - August 18th, 2017
- 72 percent of security pros say encryption backdoors won't stop terrorism - BetaNews - August 18th, 2017
- Ex-MI5 Boss Evans: Don't Undermine Encryption - Infosecurity Magazine - August 14th, 2017
- Despite end to end encryption, apps like WhatsApp, Messenger are still vulnerable to hacking: Study - Firstpost - August 13th, 2017
- What is Encryption? (with pictures) - wiseGEEK - August 12th, 2017
- Ex-MI5 chief warns against crackdown on encrypted messaging ... - The Guardian - August 12th, 2017
- Former UK security service head says weakening encryption would be too dangerous - 9to5Mac - August 12th, 2017
- News in brief: facial recognition planned for Carnival; spy chief backs encryption; ginger emoji planned - Naked Security - August 12th, 2017
- Avoid getting lost in encryption with these easy steps - We Live Security (blog) - August 12th, 2017
- Here's why IBM Z Mainframe Wants to Encrypt the World - Edgy Labs (blog) - August 10th, 2017
- Symantec Announces Plesk Will Integrate Symantec Encryption Everywhere Security Into Its Website Management ... - Business Wire (press release) - August 10th, 2017
- Australia: Shelve Proposed Law to Weaken Encryption - Human Rights Watch (press release) - August 6th, 2017
- IBM India Helps Create Breakthrough Encryption Technology That's Completely Hacker Proof - Indiatimes.com - August 6th, 2017
- Letter to Prime Minister Turnbull re Encryption and Human Rights - Human Rights Watch (press release) - August 5th, 2017
- Zscaler Finds Hackers Using SSL Encryption in Malware to Hide ... - eWeek - August 5th, 2017
- HBO Hack Highlights Importance of Encryption, Data Governance - eSecurity Planet - August 3rd, 2017
- UK flip-flop on encryption doesn't help anyone - CNET - August 3rd, 2017
- UpVote: Turkish regime jails IT trainers in encryption clampdown - Ars Technica UK - August 3rd, 2017
- Telegram messaging app strikes deal with Indonesia on encryption - Digital Trends - August 2nd, 2017
- Encryption is for 'Real People' - Human Rights Watch - August 2nd, 2017
- We don't want to ban encryption, but our inability to see what terrorists are plotting undermines our security - Telegraph.co.uk - August 2nd, 2017
- Real people don't need encryption - Fudzilla - August 2nd, 2017
- Ex-NSA boss questions encrypted message access laws proposed by Malcolm Turnbull - ABC Online - August 2nd, 2017
- Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg: WhatsApp metadata informs governments about terrorist activity in spite of encryption - CNBC - July 31st, 2017
- Commissioners need to rethink encryption - LancasterOnline - July 31st, 2017
- Ex-NSA chief Chris Inglis backs government's encryption push against Apple, Facebook - The Australian Financial Review - July 31st, 2017