NZ Privacy Commissioner annual report finds security gaps

The New Zealand Privacy Commissioner, Marie Schoff, has presented the annual privacy commissioner’s report for the period ending June 2009. The report (pdf) indicates that privacy concerns are on the increase, particularly with respect to businesses and the Internet.

From the report, the section on portable storage devices [PSDs] in the government sector:

Our survey of the 42 main government agencies showed PSDs were widely used but that there were real gaps in security procedures and practices.

Thirty-five out of the 37 agencies that responded to the survey (95 percent) made PSDs available to staff – most commonly USB sticks. Nearly two-thirds of agencies also allowed staff to use personal PSDs for work purposes.

Just nine of the agencies made PSD encryption mandatory, while 43 percent did not provide encryption solutions of any sort. Sixty-two percent kept a PSD register but only 22 percent said they would be able to track transfers of data to PSDs.

Although the survey found 75 percent of the government agencies had policies to restrict or control the use of PSDs, we are not yet confident that those policies are of a good standard, followed in practice or are well known by staff.

  • Only half of the policies included details about how to delete content.
  • Only 25 percent of agencies performed an audit to ensure PSD procedures were followed.
  • Seventy percent had procedures to report the loss or theft of a corporate PSD, but only 27 percent for personal PSDs used for work.
  • Availability and use of security tools – such as encryption, tracking of data transfers, or hardware and software controls – was patchy or lacking.

Agencies that held the most sensitive classified information had significantly tighter controls over the
use of PSDs than those that held the largest amounts of personal information.

It was particularly concerning that some of the agencies with poorer practices were flagship departments that hold the personal details of millions of New Zealanders. I am forced to the conclusion that personal information about New Zealanders is not being treated with the same care and respect as other sorts of ‘classified’ or ‘sensitive’ information.

Entire report can be downloaded here (pdf).

Hat-tip, Privacy Lives.

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