Email privacy breaches inspire NZ tech tool

By Ben Chapman-Smith

MailAdviser works at the front end of Microsoft Outlook, alerting users with a pop-up box.
MailAdviser works at the front end of Microsoft Outlook, alerting users with a pop-up box.

A Wellington tech company has responded to calls from the public sector by launching a new tool designed to prevent email privacy breaches.

Several government agencies have already signed up to use the product, including the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) and Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI).

Software developer Liverton Technology Group has developed a system called MailAdviser which works at the front end of Microsoft Outlook.

Justin De Lille, chief executive of Liverton, said the tool prompts users to double-check messages and attachments when sending to an unsecured or public email address.

"A lot of the issues you see are related to people sending the wrong attachments to a public source. This prevents that from happening," he said.

De Lille said there had been specific demand from the public sector for a way to stem the spate of privacy breaches in New Zealand over the past year.

"This is a hot topic in Wellington at present given the amount of news on privacy breaches in the public sector," De Lille said.

In March last year, details of about 6700 ACC clients were mistakenly sent to Auckland claimant Bronwyn Pullar, resulting in a long-running scandal and multiple resignations. Since then, ACC has been hit by a string of further privacy breaches.

Earlier this year, Inland Revenue mistakenly sent 182 emails to 47 people due to a software glitch on one of the department's external email servers.

The Ministry of Education admitted to a privacy breach the same month, after a staff member attached the wrong letter to an email.

Other agencies to have committed privacy breaches include Work and Income, Immigration NZ, the Earthquake Commission and the Ministry for the Environment.

A screenshot of the MailAdviser warning pop-up box seen by the user:

The FMA has been the first to adopt the new technology, with MailAdviser going live on July 5.

"FMA's early adoption of MailAdviser was driven out of a need to put in place advanced security measures to improve controls against inadvertent disclosure of confidential information," a spokesman said.

"It is in line with a wider Government push to ensure public sector agencies have the appropriate safeguards in place."

MPI is currently trialling the product among some of its staff and several other agencies have also signed on to use MailAdviser.

De Lille said the tool had just as much application for the private sector, and he was hoping to attract interest from banks, and law and accountancy firms.

Liverton employs eight people in its Wellington office and is also the developer of the government's encrypted email gateway SEEMail.

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