Confidential data handling

Confidential data is data which has some legal reason to be protected.

Confidential or sensitive data


The following description is written for the CS department, but applies almost equally to NBE and PHYS. This is being expanded and generalized to other department as well. Regardless of your department, these are good steps to follow for any confidential data at Aalto.


This meets the requirements for “Confidential” data, which covers most use cases. If you have extreme requirements, you will need something more (but be careful about making custom solutions).

Aalto has some guidelines for classification of confidential information, but they tend to deal with documents as opposed to practical guidelines for research data. If you have data which needs special attention, you should put it in a separate group and tell us when creating the group.

The following paragraph is a “summary for proposals”, which can be used when the CS data security needs to be documented. This is for the CS department, but similar thing can be created for other departments. A longer description is also available.

Aalto CS provides secure data storage for confidential data. This data is stored centrally in protected datacenters and is managed by dedicated staff. All access is through individual Aalto accounts, and all data is stored in group-specific directories with per-person access control. Access rights via groups is managed by IT, but data access is only provided upon request of the data owner. All data is made available only through secure, encrypted, and password-protected systems: it is impossible for any person to get data access without a currently active user account, password, and group access rights. Backups are made and also kept confidential. All data is securely deleted at the end of life. CS-IT provides training and consulting for confidential data management.

If you have confidential data at CS, follow these steps. CS-IT takes responsibility that data managed this way is secure, and it is your responsibility to follow CS-IT’s rules. Otherwise you are on your own:

  • Request a new data folder in the project from CS-IT. Notify them that it will hold confidential data and any special considerations or requirements. Consider how fine-grained you would like the group: you can use an existing group, but consider how many people will have access.

  • Store data only in this directory on the network drive. It can be accessed from CS computers, see data storage.

  • To access data from laptops (Aalto or your own), use network drive mounting, not copying. Also consider if temporary files: don’t store intermediate work or let your programs save temporary files to your own computer.

  • Don’t transfer the data to external media (USB drives, external hard drives, etc) or your own laptops or computers. Access over the network.

  • All data access should go through Aalto accounts. Don’t send data to others and or create other access methods. Aalto accounts provide central auditing and access control.

  • Realize that you are responsible for the day to day management of data and using best practices. You are also responsible for ensuring that people who have access to the data follow this policy.

  • In principle, one can store data on laptops or external devices with full disk encryption. However, in this case we does not take responsibility unless you ask us must ask us about this. In general it’s best to try to adapt to the network drive workflow. (Laptop full disk encryption is a good idea anyway).

We can assist in creating more secure data systems, as can Aalto IT security. It’s probably more efficient to contact us first.

Personal data (research data about others, not about you)

“Personal data” is any data concerning an identifiable person. Personal data is very highly regulated (mainly by the Personal Data Act, soon by the General Data Protection Regulation). Aalto has a document that describes what is needed to process personal data for research, which is basically a research-oriented summary of the Personal Data Act. Depending on the type of project, approval from the Research Ethics Committee may be needed (either for publication, or for human interaction. The second one would not usually cover pure data analysis of existing data). Personal data handling procedures are currently not very well defined at Aalto, so you will need to use your judgment.

However, most research does not need data to be personally identifiable, and thus research is made much simpler. Thus, you want to try to always make sure that data is not identifiable, even to yourself using any technique (anonymization). The legal requirement is “reasonable likelihood of identification”, which can include technical and confidentiality measures, but in the end is still rather subjective. Always anonymize before data arrives at Aalto, if possible. Let us know when you have personal data, so we can make a note of it in the data project.

However, should you need to use personal data, the process is not excessively involved beyond what you might expect (informed consent, ethics, but then a notification of personal data file). Contact us for initial help in navigating the issues and RIS for full advice.

Boilerplate descriptions of security

For grants, etc. you can find a description under Boilerplate text for grant proposals