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A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Sensitive information

Here’s what you need to know about sensitive information at TTS.

What is considered sensitive?

Anything that would make our systems vulnerable or would impact the privacy of others if it fell into the wrong hands. See also: the GSA Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) Guide.

Here are some examples of sensitive information:

  • passwords
  • API Keys
  • private certificates and keys
  • usernames
  • email (messages)
  • IP addresses
  • subnets
  • resource IDs
  • account IDs
  • non-public security vulnerabilities
  • roles, policies, and group membership
  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
    • See Releasability of GSA Individual Employee Information in the GSA Data Release Policy (commonly referred to as “business card PII”) for exceptions
  • payment card industry (PCI) information
  • Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI)
  • Federal Tax Information (FTI)
  • personal health information (PHI/ePHI)
  • some kinds of acquisition information
  • emergency procedures, such as evacuation plans

Not all sensitive information is treated the same. TTS categorizes sensitive information as secrets, privacy, and other sensitive information in order to help provide guidance for how to handle different types of sensitive information.

Secrets, like passwords, API keys, and private keys should NOT be keep in source code repositories. Instead, use alternative secret management approaches and solutions.

Privacy information, like PII, has its own guidance.

Other sensitive information, like IP addresses, subnets, and AWS account IDs, may be kept in a private repository.

It’s okay to publish IAM roles, policies, and group names as long as who belongs to those is not attached to the information. This helps deter spear phishing. You may store this information in a private repository.

If you aren’t sure whether something is sensitive information, ask #infrastructure for advice first. Please don’t include the potentially sensitive information in Slack.

If you inadvertently come into the possession of classified information (Secret, Top Secret, etc.), you should immediately follow our security incident process.

What to do if you find or expose sensitive information

See reporting other incidents.

Protecting TTS Systems

Preventing the leak/exposure of secrets and sensitive information must always be our top priority. We follow these best practices for protecting sensitive information in code and TTS systems:

  • Install Caulking. It’s easy to accidentally push secrets to GitHub. Caulking checks for many common types of API tokens and other sensitive information before you commit, allowing you to remove sensitive data before accidentally publishing it. (This repo assumes MacOS with Homebrew installed.)
  • Do not store sensitive information in GitHub, including environment variables, private configuration data, or sensitive information about the public (including but not limited to PII). In the event that such variables or configuration data is pushed to a GitHub repository accidentally, even momentarily, consider it compromised and revoke or change the credentials immediately. Do not delete the commit itself. Then immediately follow the directions on the incident response handbook page. If you’re unsure how to protect this information, consult with Infrastructure on GitHub or in the #admins-github channel in Slack. Some projects use Citadel to store secrets. Also refer to the Engineering Guide’s guidance on protecting information in Git and GitHub.
  • Build Pipeline Security is a helpful resource for protecting sensitive information in CI/CD.

Tools

TTS offers a variety of tools for protecting sensitive information. As you learned in your Security Awareness and Privacy training in GSA Online University (OLU), only share sensitive information with the people who absolutely need it and are authorized to see it.

Google Drive

You can use GSA Google Drive to share sensitive files, spreadsheets, and documents. This includes personally identifiable information (PII) of either federal staff or the public, but it does not include classified information of any kind. If you’re handling PII, be absolutely sure you are only sharing Drive files with GSA staff and that those staff members have a direct need for the information.

OMB MAX

You can use OMB MAX to share sensitive files, either using appropriate “workspaces” within MAX, or with MAX Drive.

MAX Drive is good for sending a one-off file to a partner (for example, when their email server strips out an attachment). Retrieving a file that has been uploaded to MAX Drive does not require the recipient to have a Max.gov account — they only need the file share’s private URL and an (optionally set) access password. An access password should be set for any files that are not public.

MAX workspaces are used with partners who don’t have access to — or who don’t feel comfortable putting the information in — Google Drive. Some workspaces in MAX are available to private organizations (for example, cloud service providers in the FedRAMP workspaces) and many other government agencies. Anyone with a @gsa.gov email can self-register on Max.gov; register your HSPD-12/PIV card or set up 2-factor authentication via a supported authenticator app. Max.gov document sharing uses Confluence so you may need to read Max.gov’s documentation on how to manage permissions and upload documents.

Be sure you know who you need to share with before posting. Only .gov/.mil/.fed.us users can self-register to Max.gov; other email domains can be individually granted access, but you’ll have to personally sponser them by making a request to MAXsupport@omb.eop.gov.

Cloud.gov

You can create an S3 service instance on cloud.gov and issue credentials for partners to access it. See interacting with your S3 bucket.

Password-protected file

Follow the linked instructions to password-protect a:

Send the encrypted file and password to the recipient separately, with the latter ideally through something ephemeral like a phone call.

Questions?