Do you know what constitutes sensitive data in your organization? How about in your state or industry? As developers or business analysts we often do not follow the nitty gritty details of sensitive information regulations or laws. Not that we don’t want to enforce them, but often times I think we often just don’t know about them. It is often thought that the CIO, CISO or a privacy officer is responsible for understanding our data and to what level it needs to be protected. I completely believe that these positions should understand the rules and regulations around privacy and what is sensitive data. Although this can be difficult because there are multiple definitions depending on what state and what industry you are in.
When working on developing an application, do you give much thought about data storage and sensitive information much past the user’s password? What is it that defines sensitive information for you and your organization? While it may not be a developers or business analysts main focus, it is important that everyone in the development lifecycle understand that data processed and stored and any rules around it.
The first place to look in most organizations is probably your policies and procedures. Most likely there are data classification documents that describe what is sensitive data and how that data must be handled. If your organization doesn’t have this type of documentation, this is a good time to start thinking about it. Often, this documentation is created by a privacy team, the security team, or some other office outside of the development teams. While it is probably not your job to create the documentation, it is important that you know and understand it.
The second thing to do is to look at your local state regulations for your industry. Regulations or definitions may be different depending on if you are healthcare, PCI, or some other industry. Unfortunately, many states have laws in place (usually around data breach notifications), but they are not standardized across the states. This may be changed soon as there is a movement in the government to create a nationwide breach notification law which may make things a little easier and more consistent. Until then, we are stuck scouring the internet looking for these different laws.
Some examples of these laws are in New Jersey, with this bill that recently went into effect, and Florida with the Florida Information Protection Act of 2014. Both of these are similar, yet have their differences. For example, while NJ calls out Driver’s license and State ID card, Florida also adds Passport, Military ID and other government documents used to verify identity. The Florida law also discusses Username, password and secret questions and answers. The following shows a quick summary of the data that can be considered sensitive:
- First Name (or initial) and last name linked with one or more of the following:
- Social Security Number
- Driver’s License or State ID card Number
- Identifiable health information
- First Name (or initial) and last name with one or more of the following:
- Social Security Number
- Driver’s License, Passport, Military ID, or other similar number on government document used to verify identity
- Financial Account Number, Credit or Debit Card Number in combination with
- Security Code
- Access Code
- Medical history, mental or physical condition, medical treatment or diagnosis by a health care professional
- Health insurance policy number or Subscriber ID and any unique identifier used by health insurer to identify individual
- User name or email address in combination with a password or security question and answer that would permit access to online account
It is important to protect this sensitive information because many times it is what the attackers are after. Both of the laws above require that the information be rendered unusable (encrypted) to be protected. All too often we think only about the user’s password or possibly their social security number, but rarely are we thinking about some of this other information. When we know during design and development what data we use and how it needs to be protected then it is that much easier to do it right the first time.
Take the time to catalog all of the data elements your application uses and how you are protecting them (if needed). You can’t protect what you don’t know you have, so it is important to first inventory and then determine where the holes may be.
Episode 21 of the DevelopSec Podcast discusses this more if you want to take a listen.
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