Evolving Census Bureau Strives to Improve Cybersecurity


Data security remains a chief concern of the Census Bureau as it innovates to combat declining response rates, increasing costs and stagnant funding, the bureau’s director said May 18.

The Economic Census, which is conducted every five years on years ending in 2 and 7, works with about 4 million employers to collect information that helps inform government policy, said John Thompson, director of the Census Bureau.

Payroll professionals typically are the main contacts and are to receive access to the survey in January 2018. The survey is to be available electronically to employers for the first time, ending the option for filing on paper.

The data collected, which may also help employers in the private sector, are released confidentially so as not to betray the identity of any of the survey’s participants, Thompson said at the annual American Payroll Association Congress in Orlando, Fla. 

The data are collected securely to protect employers’ identities and guard against cyber threats, Thompson said. 

“We do a lot of work with the Department of Homeland Security and the National Institute of Science and Technology and other entities to make sure that we are using the best practices available,” Thompson said. “To date we have not had a breach, which we’re very pleased with, but it’s a constant issue.”

Data transmitted to the bureau are encrypted. “The only time it gets unencrypted is when it’s well behind our firewall and protected by several layers of security,” Thompson said.

Cyber security likely will remain an important issue. The Economic Census is to be conducted fully online as part of the bureau’s plan to modernize the process, Thompson said.

In 2012, the percentage of online responses exceeded bureau expectations, Thompson said. Ninety percent of responses were submitted online, compared to 8.4 percent in 2007, he said.

Other plans to modernize the process include collaborating with other agencies to make sure employers are not submitting the same information multiple places, changing format requirements to allow employers to send information in whatever format it is already in and to working with third parties, like credit card companies, to access data without employer input, Thompson said.

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