Feeds

Home Office reaches half-way hash in secure data handling

Encryption bureau to operate like internal post office

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

Analysis The UK Home Office has introduced procedures to handle encrypted personal data from external partners. However, guidelines on how the new Home Office Central Cryptography service will work raise concerns about possible shortcomings with the service which, while a big improvement, falls below best practice in sectors such as banking.

Procedures outlined in the guidelines follow a major Whitehall review prompted by the HMRC data loss debacle. The guidelines are a break from working practices that saw CDs with sensitive unencrypted data regularly winging their way via internal mail, sometimes to oblivion, but fall short of offering a full end-to-end service.

The Home Office Central Cryptography service (announced in June) will make use of PGP to handle data but, once received, emails will be decrypted and forwarded to their intended recipients within the government department. While the government secure intranet provides security protections, an end-to-end system would be preferable. The reader who forwarded us the documents went further, suggesting it "defeats the whole purpose" of sending data encrypted in the first place.

Files up to 6.5MB in size will go to an email address and a dedicated machine within the central cryptography bureau, while the guidelines call for files between 6.5MB and 50MB in size to be handled through an external email service (gmx.com). Files larger than 50MB are to be sent on an encrypted CD or DVD via either courier or recorded delivery.

Mid-range files are to be left on servers before they are picked up by their intended recipients. These files are too big to email internally but too small to come via recorded media so instead they will be "placed in a 'pick-up' zone on the network folder for immediate retrieval and deletion".

The system uses of symmetric-key cryptography, so both the sender and the Home Office will share the same key for a particular communication. (This is less secure than public-key cryptography where each party uses a set of two mathematically related keys to lock and unlock messages.) External parties are advised to use complex passphrases to encrypt messages and to send them under separate cover, as explained below:

The encryption must be carried out using 3rd-party pre-defined passphrase only. The sender should ensure a strong passphrase is created. The encrypted file may be created as a PGP file or a self-decrypting executable (.exe) file. The passphrase should be sent to the Bureau separately to the encrypted data (the Bureau will contact the sender for passphrase).

Jamie Cowper, director of marketing at PGP, observed that the required use of strong passphrases sent out separately from the main communication, shows the Home Office has sought expert advice (probably from the GCHQ's CESG group) in developing its plans. "You'd be surprised, but some people sent encrypted discs with the passphrase attached on a post-it note," he added.

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Goog says patch⁵⁰ your Chrome
64-bit browser loads cat vids FIFTEEN PERCENT faster!
Chinese hackers spied on investigators of Flight MH370 - report
Classified data on flight's disappearance pinched
NIST to sysadmins: clean up your SSH mess
Too many keys, too badly managed
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
Researchers camouflage haxxor traps with fake application traffic
Honeypots sweetened to resemble actual workloads, complete with 'secure' logins
Attack flogged through shiny-clicky social media buttons
66,000 users popped by malicious Flash fudging add-on
prev story

Whitepapers

Best practices for enterprise data
Discussing how technology providers have innovated in order to solve new challenges, creating a new framework for enterprise data.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?