In June 2015, it was revealed that hackers, possibly supported by the Chinese government, had breached several databases containing PII for approximately 4 million federal workers. Current and former federal workers from almost every U.S. government agency were affected. U.S. law enforcement officials speculate that the primary goal of the breach is to build a database of federal employees which would aid hackers seeking to fool or impersonate government workers in advance of setting up insider attacks. Cybersecurity experts advising the government have reported that a number of government agencies have not been following recommended best practices, such as updating older operating systems with current protection. Other recommendations include encryption of data at rest. Instructions: Write a 5–6-page research paper that discusses the possible role of encryption in preventing the breach described in the scenario. You may take either a pro or con position. The minimum page count is 5–6 pages (excluding cover page, etc.). If you require more pages to thoroughly defend your position, feel free to include them.


The use of encryption in safeguarding data has been a topic of debate and discussion within the field of cybersecurity. This paper aims to explore the possible role of encryption in preventing the breach described in the scenario, wherein hackers gained unauthorized access to databases containing personally identifiable information (PII) of federal workers. The paper will analyze the potential benefits and drawbacks of encryption as a preventive measure, considering its effectiveness in protecting data at rest and in transit, as well as its impact on system performance and usability. Both the pro and con perspectives will be examined, providing a comprehensive analysis of encryption’s role in preventing such breaches.


In the current digital landscape, the protection of sensitive information is paramount. Breaches of databases containing personally identifiable information can have severe consequences, ranging from identity theft to espionage. Encryption is often suggested as a means to mitigate these risks by rendering data unreadable to unauthorized users. By applying complex algorithms to transform plaintext data into ciphertext, encryption aims to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of information.

Benefits of Encryption

One of the primary benefits of encryption is its ability to secure data at rest. Encryption algorithms transform the data stored on a system or database into an unreadable format, thereby preventing unauthorized access. In the scenario described, encrypting the databases containing federal worker PII could have made it significantly more challenging for the hackers to extract valuable information. Without the encryption keys, the stolen data would remain cryptographically secure. This strengthens the overall security posture of an organization or government agency, making it less susceptible to data breaches.

Encryption also plays a crucial role in securing data in transit. When data is transmitted between systems, there is a risk of interception or eavesdropping. By encrypting the data before transmission, organizations can ensure that even if intercepted, the content remains encrypted and inaccessible to unauthorized individuals. In the context of the breach scenario, encrypting the transmission of PII between databases could have prevented or hindered the hackers’ ability to monitor and collect the data during transit.

Considerations and Drawbacks

While encryption offers numerous benefits, there are also several considerations and drawbacks to its implementation. One consideration is the potential impact on system performance. Encryption algorithms require computational resources to encode and decode data, which can introduce additional processing overhead. In cases where large amounts of data are constantly being accessed, encryption may cause delays and hinder system performance. Balancing the need for encryption with operational efficiency is a crucial consideration in adopting encryption as a preventive measure.

Another consideration is the usability and accessibility of encrypted data. Encryption often requires the use of encryption keys or passwords to decrypt the data. This introduces additional complexities and potential points of failure. If encryption keys are lost or passwords forgotten, the encrypted data may become permanently inaccessible, causing significant challenges for authorized users. The usability of systems and the ability to recover encrypted data in case of key loss or password issues must be carefully considered and adequately addressed.


Encryption plays a significant role in preventing data breaches, such as the one described in the scenario. By securing data at rest and in transit, encryption can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access and data exploitation. However, considerations such as system performance and usability must be carefully balanced to ensure the effective implementation and adoption of encryption. Organizations and government agencies must evaluate the specific requirements and characteristics of their systems to determine the appropriate use of encryption as a preventive measure against breaches.

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