From incorporating smartphones to allowing online responses, the U.S. Census Bureau is ramping up technological innovation for the 2020 Census. The Census Bureau’s cybersecurity program is designed to protect its networks and systems against mounting cyber threats.
In recognition of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, Kevin Smith, Census Bureau’s chief information officer, answered a few questions about the technology and security procedures involved in collecting – and safeguarding – information about every person living in the United States.
The Census Bureau includes a team of cybersecurity experts who monitor and protect all agency technology around the clock.
Q: The 2020 Census will mark the first time that the Census Bureau has used the internet in such a significant way to conduct a decennial operation. It is also the first time that the primary mode of responding to the census will be online. How will you keep everyone’s data safe?
In order for us to conduct a successful 2020 Census, we know that the American public must trust we are able to protect the data they provide. We have designed our cybersecurity program to protect our data and technology to ensure it remains resilient in the face of persistent and evolving cyber threats.
The technology we use to collect data online has been designed with many layers of security and advanced security tools. The Census Bureau includes a team of cybersecurity experts who monitor and protect all agency technology around the clock.
Using encryption, we protect every submission as soon as it is transmitted. And, to complement our secure technology, we have strict policies and procedures in place that limit access to, and disclosure of, data.
Our cybersecurity meets the latest, highest standards for protecting your information. We work with industry experts to continually review and refine our approach to make sure we are staying ahead of threats and ensuring quick response. From the moment we collect your responses, our goal — and legal obligation — is to keep them safe.
Q: How are smartphones being used for data collection during the 2020 Census? How are they protected?
If you do not initially respond to the 2020 Census online, by phone or by mail, a census taker hired from your local community will visit your home to help you fill out the questionnaire. Census takers will use a secure mobile phone application to record your responses to the 2020 Census.
When the census taker submits your answers, the information is encrypted and safely transmitted to our private, internal network. Our network is isolated from the internet by firewalls and other security measures.
We also have designed our mobile devices to immediately remove the information once the census taker submits it. If a mobile device gets lost before data are transferred to the data center, we can remotely delete all content and disable the device.
Q: Is there anything that the public can do to protect themselves if they respond online?
The Census Bureau works with the federal intelligence community and industry experts to stay abreast of emerging cyber threats to continuously update protections and safeguards for your information.
Yet, there are several online threats that are outside of our control, and we are working diligently to build awareness about these threats. Therefore we are asking the public to take some simple actions to protect yourself online, whether that be answering the 2020 Census or any other online activity.
To begin, it is important to know that the Census Bureau will not send unsolicited emails to request your participation in the 2020 Census. Further, during the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau will never ask for your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers, or money or donations. So, if someone contacts you via email or phone and asks for any of those details, it would be a tip-off to a scam.
If you do receive an email that appears to be from the Census Bureau, don’t open any attachments or links in those emails. One of the most common ways people become victims of a cyber attack is through emails disguised as being sent by someone you trust.
In mid-March, you will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. For many of you, it will include a URL for you to type into your browser that will bring you to the secure website where you can answer the 2020 Census questionnaire online.
We plan on working with the U.S. Postal Service to stagger the delivery of these invitations over several days. This way, we can spread out the number of users responding online, and we’ll be able to serve you better if you need help over the phone.
It is important that you only use that trusted web address to be sure you are visiting the correct site to respond to the 2020 Census. You will note that the URL will start with “https://,” with an “s”, which indicates it’s a secure site.
Visit www.2020census.gov to find out when and how to fill out the 2020 Census.
Q: What if I do receive a suspicious email? Who do I contact?
If you do receive a suspicious email or other online activity, please report that information to the Census Bureau. We have a team of security experts working 24 hours a day to make sure the 2020 Census is safe.
If you require immediate assistance to verify a survey is conducted by the Census Bureau, contact the Census Bureau Regional Office for your state or our customer service Call Center for more information.
Q: Looking ahead to the 2020 Census, what are you most excited about?
The 2020 Census questionnaire is not only important for every person living in the United States to fill out, but this coming year it will be even easier to be counted with the online option.
Online data collection will make the 2020 Census much more effective and efficient than in the past, saving taxpayers’ money and reducing the burden on the American public for not only the 2020 Census, but also for future decennial censuses.
People will be able to access the website from their personal computer, mobile phone or tablet.
For those without their own device, they will be able to go to a public library or other partnership event to log into the website and get help filling out the survey. We are making it easier than ever before to meet every person’s need when filling out the 2020 Census.
It’s only going to take a few minutes to complete online, but your responses are going to influence a decade’s worth of funding for important community programs like hospitals and clinics, schools and education, and construction and improvement of roads and bridges.