Feds invest $3.7 million in securing online data

Feds invest $3.7 million in securing online data

The government is investing $3.7 million in projects meant to secure online transactions, ensure the privacy of electronic medical information and combat online tax fraud.

The pledge comes from the Commerce Department’s National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, or NSTIC, which launched in 2011 to fund various private sector pilot projects working on new technologies to secure online data.

It’s the same initiative that has been funding numerous projects aimed at developing new ways to identify people online without a password.

“The way we represent ourselves online is fundamental to nearly everything we do,” said Mike Garcia, acting director of the NSTIC National Program Office. “We need more — and better — tools to make online identity easier and more secure, and to advance the commercial deployment of privacy-enhancing technologies.”

The funding round announced Monday — the department’s fourth — will go to several different types of secure online authentication projects.

MorphoTrust USA will get just over $1 million to work on preventing the theft of personal state tax refunds. State tax fraud became a major issue this tax season, with nearly half of states reporting spikes in electronic filing fraud. Minnesota even briefly stopped accepting some electronic returns.

NSTIC said Morpho hopes to use the online driver licensing process to create “trustworthy electronic IDs” for individuals that will then help secure other online government processes.

Technology developer Galois will also get nearly $2 million to fund a tool for storing and sharing private data online. The system will rely on biometric-based authentication, seen as a possible successor to the password.

More broadly, biometric data, such as a fingerprints, are increasingly used as a second form of ID in a two-factor authentication system, where a password is tied with some other validator.  

Finally, HealthIDx will receive just shy of $1 million to build technology intended to protect medical patients’ identity and information. The project is important as electronic health records become ubiquitous and hackers increasingly target health care providers. In 2015 alone, several major health insurers such as Anthem, and large hospitals like the UCLA Health System were hit by hackers, exposing tens of millions of people’s data.

“These pilots will provide innovative, practical solutions to ensure the trust we need to combat the growing threat of cyber threats and keep our online economy growing,” said Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews in a statement.