Md. government adopts email encryption tool with NSA roots

Thousands of Maryland employees will now be able to share sensitive information over email

The Maryland state government has adopted an email encryption system first developed by the NSA so that employees can share sensitive information with one another.

Virtru, a company founded by a former National Security Agency employee to market the technology, announced Thursday that after a pilot program in the prisons department some 15,000 employees are now using the system.

State employees began using Google's email service in early 2014 and the new system is designed to allow them to securely share healthcare and criminal justice information.

Susan Lyon, an official in the state's information technology department, said that using Virtru's technology will enable the state to comply with laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — HIPAA — and "protect the privacy of our citizens statewide."

Virtru was founded in 2012 by former NSA engineer Will Ackerly and his brother John. Will Ackerly had previously deployed to Iraq and realized the government faced a problem sharing classified information to the soldiers who needed it without making it too widely available.

That weakness allowed Chelsea Manning to siphon off thousands of sensitive documents and share them with the website Wikileaks.

The technology Virtru uses is designed to solve that problem without making systems so locked down that they become difficult to use, John Ackerly said.

"Virtru addresses three of the biggest barriers to cloud adoption – data privacy, security, and compliance," he said in a statement.

Among the biggest targets for hackers have been federal government agencies, which have been the victims of major breaches in recent years leaving tens of millions of workers' information exposed.

But state governments have also been targeted and officials have warned in recent years that hackers are particularly interested in breaking into election systems.

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