This page answers some frequently asked technical and security questions. It is compiled by the New America Public Interest Technology program from many sources including Census Bureau meetings (National Advisory Committee, Scientific Advisory Committee, and Program Management Review), blog posts and press releases, and the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS). It will be updated periodically as new information becomes available (last update February 2019).
Do you have a burning Census technology question that was not answered? Reach out to [email protected].
Q: Is the 2020 Census completely online?
A: There are several response options for the 2020 Census – online, paper form, and phone – more options than ever before. Online responses can be given using a computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Q: What is cybersecurity?
A: The activity or process, ability or capability, or state whereby information and communications systems and the information contained therein are protected from and/or defended against damage, unauthorized use or modification, or exploitation (NICCS).
This means essentially anything that involves connection between devices – like email, shared drives, externally facing websites – should have security protocols in place. Information and communications systems include both hardware – office computers, enumerator devices (iPhones and laptops), etc – and software – programs that collect, transfer, and store data.
Q: What security measures does the Census Bureau have in place to protect household responses in the 2020 Census?
A: The Census Bureau is employing a number of commonly used security measures including two-factor authentication on enumerator devices and encryption.
Authentication is the process of verifying the identity or other attributes of an entity (user, process, or device) (NICCS).
The Census Bureau is employing a two-factor authentication, or two step process, for enumerator devices. This means, for example, that there will be a passcode and fingerprint id required to access each enumerator device.
Converting data into a form that cannot be easily understood by unauthorized people; the Census Bureau will use both encryption in-transit and encryption at rest for census responses (NICCS).
For online census responses, the Census Bureau will encrypt response data twice. The first encryption occurs when you hit the submit button. The second set of encryption happens when the responses reach the Census Bureau’s database.
Q: What system threats is the Census Bureau monitoring for?
A: The Census Bureau is monitoring for a number of threats including service denials, irregular system flows, and phishing.
Denial of Service
An attack that prevents or impairs the authorized use of information system resources or services. (NICCS)
If you’ve ever had trouble accessing a website and came across a message like “error 403: access denied” or “you don’t have permission to access [website]” then you have come across a denial of service.
Irregular System Flows
The Census Bureau is monitoring for irregular system flows, i.e. web traffic that is unexpected or outside of normal levels. Not much detail will be released about system flows as releasing that information is a security risk in and of itself.
A digital form of social engineering to deceive individuals into providing sensitive information. (NICCS)
Often phishing attempts aim to acquire usernames and passwords to facilitate access to secured systems. In other instances, they aim to manipulate a target into running malware.
Q: What is differential privacy?
A: The disclosure avoidance technique the Census Bureau will use to protect individual responses from being re-identified. More detailed information can be found on the Census Bureau blogs.
Q: Will the Department of Homeland Security, or other federal agencies outside of the Census Bureau, have access to individual response data in the event of a data breach?
A: No. Although DHS and other security experts are helping the Census Bureau, they will only have access to IP address and limited other metadata in the event of a data breach.
Q: What are the best browsers to use when responding online?
A: The best options for responding online will be to use the latest version of Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome, or Firefox. The Census Bureau is testing the Internet Self Response (ISR) in the current and prior year versions of these browsers.
Q: What devices are best for responding online?
A: Desktop PCs, iPhone versions 5 and later, most iPad versions, and Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets.
Q: Will the Internet Self Response (ISR) and mobile design be available for viewing/testing before release?
A: Not completely. The Census Bureau will release documentation about the ISR portal beforehand, conduct webinars about it, and create videos for reference.
Q: Is there a limit to the number of responses from a single device or IP address (For example, if my group is helping to collect responses in my community, will there be a limit to the number of responses I can submit)?
Internet protocol address, a numerical label given to each device connected to a network
Q: Where can I find information on applying for a 2020 Census job?
A: There are two different URLs used in the application process. Please note the the correct URLs for your safety.
Main job site – https://2020census.gov/jobs
Register and apply – https://recruitment.2020census.gov/ats/careersite/census.aspx?site=1&c=census
Q: How can I protect my personal device?
A: Some ways to keep your personal device as safe as possible include keeping your operating system and browsers up-to-date (updates often include increased security measures), know the correct 2020 Census website, and using encrypted messaging apps.