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Council loses USB of patient records

Worker 'had problems' using encrypted stick

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Cambridgeshire County Council has had its wrist slapped for losing an unencrypted memory stick containing the details of vulnerable adults.

The unencrypted memory stick contained the personal details of at least six individuals. The stick including case notes and minutes of meetings where staff discussed the care of the at-risk individuals.

The Council had previously gone to some lengths to get workers to only use encrypted storage for such sensitive information, including asking staff to hand in unencrypted discs and running internal campaigns to promote its newly established encryption policy.

Despite the council's warnings, an unnamed member of staff went back to using unencrypted USB sticks after having problems getting an encrypted stick to work properly.

This unscrambled stick subsequently went missing, obliging the council to report the loss of the sensitive data to privacy watchdogs at the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) last November, resulting in a mild rebuke from the ICO in its judgment on the case.

In a statement, Sally Anne-Poole, enforcement group manager at the ICO, commented: “While Cambridgeshire County Council clearly recognise the importance of encrypting devices in order to keep personal data secure, this case shows that organisations need to check their data protection policies are continually followed and fully understood by staff."

Council officials reaffirmed their commitment to the tightened data security policy and promised to carry out "regular and routine monitoring" of its encryption policy to make sure staff were following the approved procedures.

Chris McIntosh, chief exec of encryption supplier Stonewood, said that the case illustrated that user education sessions need to be applied whenever security policies are tightened up or else bad old habits will simply continue under a new regime.

He said: “What is clear is that in Cambridge County Council’s case, the loss wasn’t a failure on the part of security strategy, but rather one of employee education. An organisation can have the best security technology and protocols in the world, but without an educated workforce they’re worthless." ®

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