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News

Safeboot calls for swift action regarding HM Revenue and Customs data loss

SafeBoot : 20 November, 2007  (Technical Article)
Second sensitive data loss from UK Government tax department in as many months suggests systematic failure and demands immediate remedial action to prevent further losses.
Following last month's laptop theft, when a worker at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) 'lost' sensitive public information which was being used to conduct a routine audit of tax information from several investment firms, HMRC is yet again in the headlines after two CDs have gone missing in transit. The CDs, allegedly containing details of between 7 and 15 million child benefit claimants, has put in significant jeopardy the public's personal details and HMRC chairman, Paul Gray, has resigned in recognition of the "major operational failure". The CDs have yet to be found.

Tom de Jongh, product manager at mobile device encryption specialist SafeBoot, a McAfee company, believes the Chancellor of the Exchequer needs to take aggressive steps to prevent this kind of breach ever happening again.

"The responsibility must lie with the people in charge, and it is only right that Mr. Gray resigned. Under his leadership, mandatory security measures should have been in place to make sure these mistakes do not occur. The laptop theft in October was regrettable, but two significant failings in the space of a month are unacceptable.

"Security has to be a top-down affair. Business leaders need to set an example and mandate security policies. As a public servant, Mr Gray had a responsibility to protect the identities of the millions of people whose information was handled by HMRC. His departure should be a lesson for other business heads - you are ultimately responsible for the actions of your organisation so take proactive measures to mitigate the 'human factor'.

"Ensure that data is kept secure at all times and deploy technology that employees have to use. In this case, encryption technologies would have kept the data safe despite the loss, but we are not sure whether the CDs were encrypted. Only time will tell if HMRC thought that far ahead, and if the public will regain its confidence in the agency."
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