Boeing Discloses Personal Information Through Hidden Spreadsheet Cells

Boeing employee mistakenly emails spreadsheet full of employee personal data to his spouse, but risk of harm is declared to be low.




Financial impact

Illinois, US




Mistake Type



2 days


A leading global aerospace company, Boeing develops, produces and supports airplanes, weapons and space systems for customers in more than 150 countries. The company is a top U.S. exporter. Boeing used a spreadsheet that contained personal information including Social Secuity numbers, dates of birth, etc. to manage employee data.


In November of 2016 an employee working with a spreadsheet with personal information about other employees emailed it to his spouse. The reason given for this is that the spreadsheet was supposed to serve as a formatting template. The data for personal information like Social Security Number and Date of Birth was contained in hidden cells which is to explain how the confusion happened. The data for approximately 36,000 Boeing employees was leaked.


The law of Washinton state requires that in case of data leak the Washington State Attorney General is notified. As Boeing did so the incident was revealed to the wider public.

Boeing, being a large company with many various products, at the time also sold a data protection software of its own making. Boeing's deputy chief privacy officer Marie E Olson did not answer whether the company was using its data protection software for the spreadsheetthat got leaked. When asked by The Register , where we found the original story, the Boeing representatives said in an email:

We have notified all affected parties about the incident. We believe it is contained and the risk of harm is very low. I don't have anything else to add.

According to calculations made by The Register the cost of this particular spreadsheet error could have been $5.7 million. The total amount is calculated by multiplying the number of employees affected by the average cost of data breach per employee, $158. The latter number is from research performed by IBM and the Ponemon Institute.


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