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Protect Sensitive Information

Protect sensitive information about your activities and people connected to you

Last Updated 15 April 2024

Introduction

Everyday life increasingly generates a large quantity of sensitive information. Sensitive information about you may be held by you, your family, your organisation or others. You need to understand where this information is held and take steps to make sure it is protected and is not inadvertently shared with others. It may be shared through:

  • Accidental loss
  • Espionage, either commercial or state sponsored
  • A disgruntled member of staff or contact releasing information
  • You or others being pressured or tricked into releasing information
  • Theft from your home, vehicle, person or any place you are visiting
  • Emergency abandonment of a vehicle or building

What is sensitive information?

Sensitive information may be information you hold in relation to:

  • Yourself
  • Organisations you represent or work with
  • Organisations or individuals you are gathering information about
  • The personal information of those you exchange information with.

And if it was released to others, this would lead to:

  • Harm of any person
  • Serious damage to anything
  • Serious financial loss to any person or organisation
  • Damage to the reputation of any person or organisation.

The following information will help you to protect the sensitive information that you hold in a physical format and that may be shared in conversation.

For guidance on protecting online information about you see Protecting Information About You.

Protect physical information

If you hold physical materials containing sensitive information such as: printed documents, handwritten materials, photographs and plans, the following should be considered:

Sensitive information and property, such as driving licences and other identity documents should be securely stored in an approved safe. For more information look at Secured by Design Domestic Home Safes.

Use tamper indicating equipment to identify if anyone has attempted to access sensitive information. For more information look at tamper indication.

Consider having a room where windows are obscured. Obscuration prevents hostile surveillance into a well-lit building, minimising the obstruction to outward visibility, without the need to block windows. Fit opaque shutters or install blinds. For more information look at obscuration.

Collect your mail promptly if it is left in communal areas. Consider using a lockable mailbox for added security. Shred any mail containing personal information before discarding it.

Consider physical storage that is specifically designed to protect information away from home. Bags and other containers should be used where possible to be discreet and to avoid drawing attention. Include tamper protection. Further information is available from secure transportation.

When travelling and working away from home consider what property you are taking with you. Only take essential items. Always keep sensitive items with you, don’t leave them in hotel safes. Keep passports and travel documents secure.

Consider how you dispose of any sensitive information. Don’t place it in your rubbish collection unless shredded with an approved shredder. Use a “cross-cutting” shredder. For information on shredders for use either at home or in offices go to secure destruction - Equipment. Specialist companies are also available to manage secure destruction of sensitive waste.

If you are disposing of old electronic devices, make certain that all data is permanently erased before it is passed on or traded in. Further guidance is available from NCSC in relation to erasing devices.

Protect your conversations

Conversations take place between people in person or via telephone or video calls. It is important that sensitive information can be shared in a secure environment. The following should be considered:

Be confident you know who you are revealing sensitive information to, and that you have agreed what they will do with the information before you share it. Don’t release sensitive information in response to unsolicited requests. If you're unsure: don’t.

Only share information you need to share. It may not be necessary to share all the information every time.

Ensure you know who else could be listening when you share information in person or over the phone. Make sure you can’t be overheard or recorded. Be particularly careful if you are in public places or near smart devices – see Protecting Information About You.

Use encrypted messaging or email systems. If using video calling, make sure the background does not reveal information about your home. For more information see  NCSC video conferencing.

Always switch on additional security on your mobile phone’s answer phone, ensure you change the default security code. For more information see ProtectUK mobile phones.

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