Feeds

Home Office reaches half-way hash in secure data handling

Encryption bureau to operate like internal post office

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

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.

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Jihadi terrorists DIDN'T encrypt their comms 'cos of Snowden leaks
Intel bods' analysis concludes 'no significant change' after whistle was blown
Home Depot: 56 million bank cards pwned by malware in our tills
That's about 50 per cent bigger than the Target tills mega-hack
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
UK.gov lobs another fistful of change at SME infosec nightmares
Senior Lib Dem in 'trying to be relevant' shocker. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
Critical Adobe Reader and Acrobat patches FINALLY make it out
Eight vulns healed, including XSS and DoS paths
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
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?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.