Federal workers and the public in general might be mistaken about the security of .zip files, Sen. Ron Wyden said on Wednesday [PDF], and he’s asking the National Institute of Standards and Technology to issue guidance on the best way to send sensitive files over the internet. Wyden wrote: Government agencies routinely share and receive sensitive data through insecure methods — such as emailing .zip files — because employees are not provided the tools and training to do so safely. As you know, it is a routine practice in the government, and indeed the private sector, to send by email-protected .zip files containing sensitive documents. Many people incorrectly believe that password-protected .zip files can protect sensitive data.
Indeed, many password-protected .zip files can be easily broken with off-the-shelf hacking tools. This is because many of the software programs that create .zip files use a weak encryption algorithm by default. While secure methods to protect and share data exist and are freely available, many people do not know which software they should use. Given the ongoing threat of cyber attacks by foreign state actors and high-profile data breaches, this is a potentially catastrophic national security problem that needs to be fixed. The government must ensure that federal workers have the tools and training they need to safetly share sensitive data. To address this problem, I ask that NIST create and publish an easy-to-understand guide describing the best way for individuals and organizations to securely share sensitive data over the internet.