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Viewpoint on the HMRC data loss scandal

A major data loss scandal at the HMRC is again fuelling the worldwide discussion on data security.

Was it an individual or a system failure that a junior officer at HMRC was allowed to copy the records of 25 million people, related to child benefit payments for 7.25 million British families, on to a CD which then got lost during the transfer to the National Audit Office (NAO)?

The data breach victims are all British families claiming child benefit who are now seriously worried that all their personal data - especially their banking details - might be subject to fraud and abuse.

Carelessness and negligence in data handling is by no means rare.

In a recent worldwide survey on secure mobile working amongst 1,100 business users, Utimaco found that one in four mobile devices (e.g. USB sticks, CD-ROMs) are not sufficiently encrypted.

Yet such devices frequently contain sensitive or confidential corporate or personal information.

Furthermore, 26% of the respondents admit that they have already lost such removable media.

To avoid data breaches and to provide 360-degree data protection a comprehensive data security concept is essential.

Encrypting data with a centrally managed user encryption key allows authorized users or user groups to read and process data across the company.

It prevents external or unauthorized people to access and abuse data.

There are also software solutions available for secure e-mail communication guaranteeing that corporate security policies are automatically implemented without the user having to do anything.

This means the sender and recipients can communicate or send data securely via e-mail without having to worry about data confidentiality.

A greater awareness amongst employees paired with professional encryption solutions could have prevented this identity crises.

Hopefully all businesses and organizations will learn from this experience.

Only well planned and implemented security policies will protect our citizens against more nightmares to come and will hopefully start rebuilding lost confidence.

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.