Limit Data Sharing With Third Party Contractors To Lower Breach Risk

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently announced that it experienced a data breach that exposed the sensitive personal information of 2.3 million disaster survivors. These individuals could be at risk for identity theft and fraud as a result.

The Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General determined that the breach occurred when the agency was transferring

information to a contractor to secure temporary housing for individuals affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as the 2017 California wildfires.

A watchdog report stated that, although FEMA must share certain personal information, FEMA violated the Privacy Act of 1974 by exposing banking information, including transfer numbers, and personal addresses.

FEMA claims to have taken measures to mitigate the negative effects of the breach: it has stopped sharing unnecessary personal data with the contractor; it conducted a detailed review of the contractor's information system; and it is working with the contractor to remove unnecessary personal information from its databases. FEMA also claims to have updated its contract to require compliance with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cybersecurity and information-sharing standards and to have instructed its contractors to complete additional privacy training.

A representative for FEMA stated that it has not yet found evidence that personal data has been misused. FEMA represents that it is working to improve personal information transmission by 2020. Juliegrace Brufke "FEMA exposed personal information of 2.3 million disaster survivors" thehill.com (Mar. 22, 2019).

Commentary

When organizations share sensitive personal information with third-parties, including contractors, they should do so only when there is a clear job-related necessity and in a protected, limited manner so that only the specific data that the party needs to perform the job is shared.

Do not send all stored sensitive data when a third party needs access to certain data. Instead, only transmit the specific data the contractor needs for the job. When sharing data with third parties, require them to follow cybersecurity best practices and sign a contract stating that they will do so. Consider requiring contractors to complete training on your required cybersecurity measures.

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