Just Because It Isn’t a Password Doesn’t Mean It Shouldn’t Be Encrypted

Target has done a number on us as customers by having not just customer information but Personally Identifiable Information specifically.

As part of Target's ongoing forensic investigation, it has been determined that certain guest information - separate from the payment card data previously disclosed - was taken from Target. This theft is not a new breach, but was uncovered as part of the ongoing investigation. At this time, the investigation has determined that the stolen information includes names, mailing addresses, phone numbers or email addresses for up to 70 million individuals.

If Target has encrypted all the PII which sat within their database then this data breach wouldn’t have that big a deal because the data which was stolen would have been encrypted and useless to the thieves.  However based on the fact that Target had to announce the breach we are left to assume that the data wasn’t encrypted.

Because someone (probably a developer or project manager) made the decision to store all this PII in plain text instead of taking the time and CPU power to encrypt this information we the customers of Target have to pay the price.  And there is nothing that we can do about this as customers other than not shop there any more, which in reality this isn’t always an option.

As IT workers we need to push our employers and clients to ensure that they are properly encrypting all PII data possible so that the customers and general public aren’t put through this sort of thing.  Pushing to make this happen won’t make us popular with managers, or co-workers as it does add more work to the workflows and more work in general, but this is something which we must start doing.  And I’m not talking about encrypting data when at rest, but actually encrypting the data in the tables so that when an attacker exports the data from the tables using a basic select statement they get useless information, otherwise the entire data encryption process was pointless.

Someone within organizations needs to step up and start bringing this up in meetings.  If you don’t do it, no one will and this sort of massive data theft will happen again.  Just because you don’t work in a large retailer doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be bringing this up in your company.  EVERY company needs to be thinking about this because you never know how much information the systems will be holding or how these systems will be used in the future, so it’s best to plan for the best now.

Denny