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User-focused threat identification for anonymised microdata

Ritchie, Felix; Hafner, Hans-Peter; Lenz, Rainer

User-focused threat identification for anonymised microdata Thumbnail


Hans-Peter Hafner

Rainer Lenz


© 2019 - IOS Press and the authors. When producing anonymised microdata for research, national statistics institutes (NSIs) identify a number of 'risk scenarios' of how intruders might seek to attack a confidential dataset. This approach has been criticised for focusing on data protection only without sufficient reference to other aspects of confidentiality management, and for emphasising theoretical possibilities rather than evidence-based attacks. An alternative 'user-centred' approach offers more efficient outcomes and is more in tune with the spirit of data protection legislation, as well as the letter. The user-centred approach has been successfully adopted in controlled research facilities. However, it has not been systematically applied beyond these specialist facilities. This paper shows how the same approach can be applied to distributed data with limited NSI control. It describes the creation of a scientific use file (SUF) for business microdata, traditionally hard to protect. This case study demonstrates that an alternative perspective can have dramatically different outcomes as compared with established anonymization strategies; in the case study discussed, the alternative approach reduces 100% perturbation of continuous variables to under 1%. The paper also considers the implications for future developments in official statistics, such as administrative data and 'big data'.


Ritchie, F., Hafner, H., & Lenz, R. (2019). User-focused threat identification for anonymised microdata. Statistical Journal of the IAOS, 35(4), 703-713.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 23, 2019
Online Publication Date Sep 29, 2019
Publication Date Dec 10, 2019
Deposit Date Sep 8, 2019
Publicly Available Date Sep 9, 2019
Journal Statistical Journal of the IAOS
Print ISSN 1874-7655
Publisher IOS Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 35
Issue 4
Pages 703-713
Series ISSN 1875-9254
Public URL


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