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One Step Ahead: Shipping Data Safely
November 16, 2010, Volume 57, No. 12

One Step Ahead

Another tip in a series provided by the Offices of Information Systems & Computing and Audit, Compliance & Privacy.

Shipping Data Safely

In an age of e-mail and storage applications, we often think only of “sending” confidential data electronically and secure ways to do so. In fact, some faculty and staff actually have a need to physically ship or “snail mail” data—on CD-ROMs, flash drives, hard drives, paper and other physical media—to collaborators, government agencies, and maybe even themselves.

If you need to ship confidential information, think about the following:

First, consider less risky alternatives.  You may not need to actually ship data on physical media to reach the desired destination. Secure electronic file transfers are quite common and can be arranged by your Local Support Provider. This is much less risky and should be used whenever possible. 

If you must ship the data and the data is sensitive “breach notification data”— including Social Security numbers, credit card or bank account information and certain health information—you must encrypt it. Failure to do so, and any loss of that data, can cause significant privacy harm and will likely require a notification be sent to affected individuals. Encrypting the data is an easy and critical solution to these problems. Even with other types of sensitive information, encrypting the data is highly recommended.

Data can be encrypted with PGP software and then saved to CD-ROMs, flash drives, hard drives and other electronic media. Contact your Local Support Provider for assistance.

Alternatively, encrypted flash drives can be purchased at a low cost. See for example Iron Key flash drives at www.ironkey.com.

If you cannot encrypt the data you must ship, for example, because it is on paper:

Verify the recipient’s most direct address before sending.

For domestic mail, send certified mail with restricted delivery. For shipping internationally, send registered mail with restricted delivery. 
This way, the person the package is addressed to will be the only one who can sign for it and you will receive a “return receipt” confirming that the delivery has been made. You can also track the package online at www.usps.com

Contact Penn Mail Services (215-898-MAIL) to arrange for these more secure shipment options.


For additional tips, see the One Step Ahead link on the Information Security website: www.upenn.edu/computing/security/.

Almanac - November 16, 2010, Volume 57, No. 12