Page 1 of 2
Sensitive Information by Email?
As a personal note, I just had this happen. Not only was I encouraged to send sensitive personal information by email I was told it was secure. When we encrypted the Email attachments they did not know how to open them even using the detailed instruction given them. There was no secure portal or other means of electronically transmitting the information except by good old fax. Even then we made sure the responsible person was standing by the fax machine as we transmitted and confirmed receipt of documents.
Read on about what was found in the industry as a whole. It’s NUTS. Hold your ground here and NEVER, NEVER transmit any sensitive or protected (PHI) material by unencrypted email. NEVER!
A recent study by HALOCK labs found many of the nation’s large and small mortgage lenders allow for information sharing practices that may put applicants’ personal and financial data at risk during transmission from the applicant to the lender.
HALOCK investigated 63 U.S. mortgage lenders and found that over 45 (70%) permitted applicants to send personal and financial information over unencrypted email as email attachments. This information includes tax documents and W-2′s. Eight out of the eleven top U.S. lenders were found to allow for the same unsecure practices as smaller lenders. Additionally, nearly 70% of the surveyed lenders encourage faxing sensitive data, which may reduce risks of breach, but are still not as secure as encryption. Over 40% of lenders provided a postal mail option, while only 12% offered a secure email portal. When asked why a secure email portal was not offered to applicants several of the surveyed lenders responded that it was a matter of what the customer was “most comfortable with.”
While these responses suggest that lenders prioritize their customers’ ease-of-use over their security, they also suggest an unawareness that their customers are losing confidence in their banks’ commitment to customer privacy. A study by the Ponemon Institute published on October 10, 2013 shows a ten-year decline in customer confidence in their banks’ commitment to privacy, approximately 65% of respondents disagreeing with the statement, “My bank is committed to ensuring the privacy of my personal information is protected.”
A former mortgage lender commented anonymously that, “Oftentimes it was easier to have my clients send documents like W-2′s through email because everyone has access to an email account. Most of us [lenders] didn’t want to take the time to explain what a secure portal was and how to use it. Everyone understands what email is.” The comment underscores the lack of security knowledge surrounding email pervasive in the mortgage industry.
According to internationally recognized security expert Graham Cluley, publisher of Graham Cluley Security News, it’s worth the extra effort to go through the paces of using a secure portal because it’s a commonly accessible way to transmit documents safely. “Email by its very nature is unsecure: 99.9 % of it is sent unencrypted. If it was invented today no one would use it. Emailing unencrypted documents ‘in the clear’ creates a potential chain of issues.”
Methods to transfer files securely are prevalent today but are underutilized by businesses and their employees. “We understand the business need to smooth the way for our customers, but there are
Page 2 of 2
many secure file transfer technologies that are both easy for customers to use, and safe from network snooping. And as the public becomes more demanding of their banks to ensure privacy and security, it’s no longer feasible to rely on unsecure email for the transfer of financial documents” says Terry Kurzynski, Senior Partner at HALOCK Security Labs. “Any type of weak link in a system involving sensitive information exposes people to unnecessary risk. It takes months to recover from an identity theft and minutes to log into a secure portal. Do the math.”