How The Government Protects Your Data

Although I oppose both public and private surveillance I especially loathe public surveillance. Any form of surveillance results in data about you being stored and oftentimes that data ends up leaking to unauthorized parties. When the data is leaked from a private entity’s database I at least have some recourse. If, for example, Google leaks my personal information to unauthorized parties I can choose not to use the service again. The State is another beast entirely.

When the State leaks your personal information your only recourse is to vote harder, which is the same as saying your only recourse is to shut up and take it. This complete lack of consequences for failing to implement proper security is why the State continues to ignore security:

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Federal investigators found significant cybersecurity weaknesses in the health insurance websites of California, Kentucky and Vermont that could enable hackers to get their hands on sensitive personal information about hundreds of thousands of people, The Associated Press has learned. And some of those flaws have yet to be fixed.


The GAO report examined the three states’ systems from October 2013 to March 2015 and released an abbreviated, public version of its findings last month without identifying the states. On Thursday, the GAO revealed the states’ names in response to a Freedom of Information request from the AP.

According to the GAO, one state did not encrypt passwords, potentially making it easy for hackers to gain access to individual accounts. One state did not properly use a filter to block hostile attempts to visit the website. And one state did not use the proper encryption on its servers, making it easier for hackers to get in. The report did not say which state had what problem.

Today encrypting passwords is something even beginning web developers understand is necessary (even if they often fail to property encrypt passwords). Most content management systems do this by default and most web development frameworks do this if you use their builtin user management features. The fact a state paid developers to implement their health insurance exchange and didn’t require encrypted passwords is ridiculous.

Filtering hostile attempts to visit websites is a very subjective statement. What constitutes a hostile attempt to visit a website? Some websites try to block all Tor users under the assumption that Tor has no legitimate uses, a viewpoint I strongly disagree with. Other websites utilize blacklists that contain IP addresses of supposedly hostile devices. These blacklists can be very hit or miss and often block legitimate devices. Without knowing what the Government Accountability Office (GOA) considered effective filtering I’ll refrain from commenting.

I’m also not entirely sure what GOA means by using property encryption on servers. Usually I’d assume it meant a lack of HTTP connections secured by TLS. But that doesn’t necessarily impact a malicious hackers ability to get into a web server. But it’s not uncommon for government websites to either not implement TLS or implement it improperly, which puts user data at risk.

But what happens next? If we were talking about websites operated by private entities I’d believe the next step would be fixing the security holes. Since the websites are operated by government entities though it’s anybody’s guess what will happen next. There will certainly be hearings where politicians will try to point the finger at somebody for these security failures but finger pointing doesn’t fix the problem and governments have a long history of never actually fixing problems.