Category Archives: data security

One third of personal data breaches reported “late” to ICO

By me, on the Mishcon de Reya website.

…a recent request to the ICO under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) has revealed that, from the available data, of the 21705 personal data breaches notified to the ICO since May 2018, 14,365 were notified within 72 hours, and 7340 were not – meaning that approximately one third of personal data breaches are reported later than within 72 hours

Leave a comment

Filed under Breach Notification, Data Protection, data security, GDPR, Information Commissioner

P@55w0rdz

A guest post by Danny Budzak.

Danny is the Senior Information Manager at the London Legacy Development Corporation and is involved in data protection and information security. He regularly delivers training and learns as much, if  not more, than he might teach. He has also worked with Silver Surfers, helping older people to get online. What he has learned makes him amazed and concerned in equal measure at the whole issue of ‘password management’.

In days gone by, confessions could be described as the aural equivalent of click-bait. Everyone wants to listen. I will start with mine. On a recent holiday, I found that space where work and the office and projects and PowerPoint presentations seemed far away. And at that point I realised I had forgotten my network password. I was convinced such a thing could never happen. I used it at least ten times a day to log on, unlock the screen, to log on, to unlock the screen. During lock-down I was probably using it more than in the office. But it had gone. Where that password should have been in my brain was nothing but a blank space. Being in the office would have mitigated the problem. It can be reset remotely. But it doesn’t work like that for many people when working remotely.

I do a lot of information security training and password training is a key part of this. I was used to watching people counting on their fingers how many characters their password had (usually eight), or counting on one hand the number of “different” passwords they use. Some could this with one finger. One password to rule them all.

Then I introduced a new exercise by asking people how many online accounts they had. Some said “about twenty…or maybe thirty”, others admitted, “I don’t have a clue”, two people with password managers knew exactly; 189, 233. Research shows that most people think they have around 20 – 30 online accounts, but they are more likely to have 120 – 130 accounts. Sit down and make a list. And that will just be the ones you can remember. What about that website where you bought tickets for an event ten years ago? It’s still there, even if you have forgotten. Just remember, the internet has a much better and far more comprehensive memory than you do.

And then the story goes like this. So if you have 120 – 130 accounts, how do you manage the passwords? “One key password with variations”, “the browser remembers them”, “I just re-set them each time”, “a small number which I swop and vary”. Why not write them down with invisible ink on a sheet of A4 and store the paper in the third book of the fourth shelf in the kitchen?

After a couple of  years I was puzzled why no-one ever asked me how I managed passwords. So I started telling them.

For my most important accounts – bank, email, social media, consumer sites – I write them down. In a book. These are long passwords – 25-30 characters long. But I write them down in such a way as they don’t look like passwords. Paradoxically, if you have a password of 1*EKLP&!!mm…!()??.< and write it down, it’s obvious it’s a password. But if you do have a password like that, you will never remember it.

For what I consider low-risk work applications (appraisal system, annual leave, bike shed booking) all the passwords are in a spreadsheet, that’s in a part of the network drive that only I can access, that is among 10,000 other files. That spreadsheet has a password on it. What could possibly go wrong?

And then the passwords for my social life – art galleries, books, music, exploring. These generally require accounts because it helps them sell to advertisers and they can do more fancy analysis of what you look at. Somewhere in the universe a database exists which shows I like the art of the Northern Renaissance, German electronic music and Italian food. It’s all a bit creepy that companies want to know this but I don’t care two hoots where that “web page usage” data goes and what Facebook or anyone else does with it. Good luck with anyone who manages to sell me anything based on that. An original Jan Van Eyck perhaps? But where there is a problem is if you use the same password for everything; because you are then at the mercy of the weakest system in which you have data. Does it matter if your password is the same for an obscure fan site of CAN as your social media account? Well yes, actually it does.

But there are already three systems here. Four if you include “saving passwords in the browser”. Five, if I have to accept that I get in a muddle with passwords sometimes and need to re-set them, or log in from a different machine. And yet the password is the key security element which we all hold and control.

I still had a vague sense that I was doing something wrong so I thought it might be worth asking my peers. I sent a very short questionnaire to two online communities which I thought might be interested. The Data Protection forum and Records Management forum on JISCmail. Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.

This is not a scientific study, it was almost a bit of light-hearted fun. Some of the responses certainly made me laugh out loud, but for all the wrong reasons. There are no percentages or totals here, but I got the feeling that the 50 or so people who responded were a fairly representative sample. The responses very much reflected the sort of responses I have been getting in training for the past five years. “I have one password and no one will ever guess it.” Actually, it doesn’t really work like that. “I use 3 instead of E”. Wow! Don’t tell the hackers they would never think of such things. “All my passwords are in French.” That’s great. No hacking problems in France. “I use the same one but change the number at the end.” “I have a few which I interchange.” One person’s reply was so baroque that one felt like asking if they had taken part in the Napoleonic wars where cyphers and skull-duggery became ever more elaborate: “I use the names of the first team squad of  my favourite football team but I remove all the letters a and e”. This is fantastic, but it only provides 25 passwords. What about the 100 others?

Other responses made me gasp and some were so shocking that if I revealed the methods it would only help the bad people. I suspect the people who use Password1, TopCat2, OpenSesame and others kept their guilty heads down. So the problem is almost certainly worse than the responses received.

The other thing I noticed was that very few people displayed much confidence in their “methods” (although in many instances that is stretching the meaning of the word). The small minority who did display a certainty about what they did were those who were convinced that one password is enough, and those who use a password manager. And that got me thinking.

At a recent training session I started to go through password management. The different types of passwords for different types of systems; using reminders such as salsa sauce recipes (1 handful of basil, 2 tbsp lemon juice, a lot of parsley – they are actually good passwords); writing them down but also having a couple of characters which only you know; using the third page of a book. And half way through I stopped.

“This is madness”, I said, “get a password manager”.

I don’t know if they are the best way to do it, but it has got to be better than the Heath Robinson approach which so many people have.

As well as managing passwords, it will also help you understand how many accounts you have online. And if you don’t know that – which most people don’t – then how can you be in control of your own personal data?

Leave a comment

Filed under Data Protection, data security

Schrems II – what now?

A piece I have written with my Mishcon colleague Adam Rose, looking at the issues for businesses involved in international transfers (esp. to the US).

Make no mistake – the effect of Schrems II is to make bulk/regular transfers of personal data to the US problematic (putting it at its lowest). It arguably has the same effect in respect of transfers to most, if not all, third countries.

Leave a comment

Filed under adequacy, Data Protection, data security, Europe, facebook, GDPR, Information Commissioner, national security, privacy shield

A royal letter before claim

Media reports suggest a USB stick from Heathrow Airport containing security information, including details of measures used to protect the Queen has been found on a street


Letter before small claims court claim

Mrs E Windsor
Buckingham Palace
London
SW1A 1AA

The Chap in Charge of Security
Heathrow Airport
The Compass Centre,
Nelson Road,
Middlesex,
TW6 2GW

Dear Subject*

Reference: cock-up with one’s personal data

As it has not been possible to resolve this matter amicably, and it is apparent that court action may be necessary, We write in compliance with the Practice Direction on Pre-Action Conduct (we considered treason charges, but One wishes to be tolerant).

We are informed that Heathrow Airport says it has launched an internal investigation after a USB stick containing security information was reportedly found on the street. The beastly communist Sunday Mirror reported that the USB stick had 76 folders with maps, videos and documents, including details of measures used to protect Us. A subject found it in west London and handed it into the paper.

From you We are claiming fifty guineas for distress.

We have calculated this sum on the basis that section 13(1) of our Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) provides that one can grab a bit of extra money for the races by showing that one has suffered damage cos of a cock-up with one’s personal data. When We agreed the old DPA by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in the then Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, We thought one couldn’t grab said moolah merely if one was a bit peeved, but thought one had to have suffered tangible harm first. However, some of Our ghastly judges [who the bleeding hell do they work for?] decided a while ago, on the basis of a law passed by one’s distant relations that they would simply disapply Our section 13(2) [arses]. Given that, We might as well chuck Our Crown into the ring.

Listed below are the documents on which We intend to rely in Our claim against you:

Beastly seditious rag
Jolly old skit from the chaps at 11 Kings [WHAT?] Bench Walk
Treason Act 1351 (no harm in a quick reminder eh?)

We can confirm that We would be agreeable to mediation and would consider any other system of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in order to avoid the need for this matter to be resolved by Our (n.b. “Our”) courts.

We would invite you to put forward any proposals in this regard.

In closing, We would draw your attention to paragraphs 15 and 16 of the Practice Direction which [should give Our courts the power to imprison grotty oiks] gives courts powers to impose sanctions on the parties if they fail to comply with the direction including failing to respond to this letter before claim.

We look forward to hearing from you within the next 28 days.

Should We not receive a response to my letter within this time frame then We anticipate that court action will be commenced with no further reference to you [where’s Albert Pierrepoint when you need him?]

Yours faithfully,

E.

*Not “data subject”, naturally. We are the data subject.


The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

1 Comment

Filed under 7th principle, damages, Data Protection, data security, not-entirely-serious

This old world will never change

Complacency about data protection in the NHS won’t change unless ICO takes firm action

Back in September 2016 I spoke to Vice’s Motherboard, about reports that various NHS bodies were still running Windows XP, and I said

If hospitals are knowingly using insecure XP machines and devices to hold and otherwise process patient data they may well be in serious contravention of their [data protection] obligations

Subsequently, in May this year, the Wannacry exploit indicated that those bodies were indeed vulnerable, with multiple NHS Trusts and GP practices subject to ransomware demands and major system disruption.

That this had enormous impact on patients is evidenced by a new report on the incident from the National Audit Office (NAO), which shows that

6,912 appointments had been cancelled, and [it is] estimated [that] over 19,000 appointments would have been cancelled in total. Neither the Department nor NHS England know how many GP appointments were cancelled, or how many ambulances and patients were diverted from the five accident and emergency departments that were unable to treat some patients

The NAO investigation found that the Department of Health and the Cabinet Office had written to Trusts

saying it was essential they had “robust plans” to migrate away from old software, such as Windows XP, by April 2015. [And in] March and April 2017, NHS Digital had issued critical alerts warning organisations to patch their systems to prevent WannaCry

Although the NAO report is critical of the government departments themselves for failure to do more, it does correctly note that individual healthcare organisations are themselves responsible for the protection of patient information. This is, of course, correct: under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) each organisation is a data controller, and responsible for, among other things, for ensuring that appropriate technical and organisational measures are taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data.

Yet, despite these failings, and despite the clear evidence of huge disruption for patients and the unavoidable implication that delays in treatment across all NHS services occurred, the report was greeted by the following statement by Keith McNeil, Chief Clinical Information Officer for NHS England

As the NAO report makes clear, no harm was caused to patients and there were no incidents of patient data being compromised or stolen

In fairness to McNeil, he is citing the report itself, which says that “NHS organisations did not report any cases of harm to patients or of data being compromised or stolen” (although that is not quite the same thing). But the report continues

If the WannaCry ransomware attack had led to any patient harm or loss of data then NHS England told us that it would expect trusts to report cases through existing reporting channels, such as reporting data loss direct to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in line with existing policy and guidance on information governance

So it appears that the evidence for no harm arising is because there were no reports of “data loss” to the ICO. This emphasis on “data loss” is frustrating, firstly because personal data does not have to be lost for harm to arise, and it is difficult to understand how delays and emergency diversions would not have led to some harm, but secondly because it is legally mistaken: the DPA makes clear that data security should prevent all sorts of unauthorised processing, and removal/restriction of access is clearly covered by the definition of “processing”.

It is also illustrative of a level of complacency which is deleterious to patient health and safety, and a possible indicator of how the Wannacry incidents happened in the first place. Just because data could not be accessed as a result the malware does not mean that this was not a very serious situation.

It’s not clear whether the ICO will be investigating further, or taking action as a result of the NAO report (their response to my tweeted question – “We will be considering the contents of the report in more detail. We continue to liaise with the health sector on this issue” was particularly unenlightening). I know countless dedicated, highly skilled professionals working in the fields of data protection and information governance in the NHS, they’ve often told me their frustrations with senior staff complacency. Unless the ICO does take action (and this doesn’t necessarily have to be by way of fines) these professionals, but also – more importantly – patients, will continue to be let down, and in the case of the latter, put at the risk of harm.

The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

Leave a comment

Filed under 7th principle, Data Protection, data security, enforcement, Information Commissioner, NHS

Carphone Warehouse and the DPA risks

According to my less-than-reliable memory, I once purchased a mobile phone from Carphone Warehouse about twelve years ago. I seem to also remember buying a phone from a company with a name like mobiles.co.uk around the same time (we’re they even going then?). Since then, my telephone number, postal address and email address have all changed, but my main banking details have not. So when the news emerged in recent days that Carphone Warehouse and various subsidiaries and partners had been affected by a data security breach involving the data of 2.4m customers I was understandably concerned. I have asked Carphone Warehouse several times how far back they held data which has been compromised, and explained that my contact details will have changed from any they might hold, but I have just been referred to generic information on their website which says that affected customers will be sent an email or text message (which is clearly useless to me).

I think Carphone Warehouse need urgently to clarify how far back they were retaining customer data that was compromised in this incident: I will be extremely unhappy if my c.12 year old data was in fact involved, because as far as I can see there would have been no reason to retain it that long. The fifth principle in Schedule One of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) states that personal data should not be kept for longer than is necessary to fulfil the original purpose for which it was gathered – I doubt that retaining for twelve-odd years would comply with Carphone Warehouse’s obligations under the DPA.

But on a more general, less personal, note, what might this incident mean in DPA terms for Carphone Warehouse and its customers? I note that the generic information referred to above states that the cause was “a sophisticated cyber-attack” and that such attacks are “part of the reality of the modern world”. This is true, but not all organisations suffer such a serious breach of their systems that more than two million people are affected. Carphone Warehouse, as a data controller with obligations to process customer data in accordance with their obligations under the DPA will have to satisfy the Information Commissioner’s Office (which is investigating) and its customers that it complied with the seventh data protection principle, and had appropriate technical and organisational measures in place to safeguard personal data. Failure to have done so would open Carphone Warehouse up to the risk of an ICO monetary penalty to a maximum of£500,000. But the reason I mentioned satisfying customers as to the appropriate measures in place is that the DPA affords individual data subjects the right to bring a compensation claim against a data controller for a contravention of the Act. Traditionally, this right only applied where the data subject had suffered quantifiable damage (in the form of monetary loss), but, since the decision of the Court of Appeal earlier this year in Google Inc v Vidal-Hall & ors. [2015] EWCA Civ 311, such claims can be made on the basis purely of the distress suffered as a result of the contravention. I’ve got to say, I’m feeling a certain level of distress just now at the thought that my data might have been compromised. If it transpires that it was, the distress will only increase. Although such distress payments are unlikely ever to be particularly large, when one then considers the emergence of group litigation of DPA claims, the financial risks to data controllers who suffer huge breaches of customer data is palpable: purely hypothetically, if Carphone Warehouse were found to have failed to comply with their DPA obligations, and half of the customers affected brought a money claim worth £100, they would be facing an exposure of more than £100 million. One wonders if the market’s continuing current confidence in the company allows for that.

Google has been granted permission to appeal Vidal-Hall to the Supreme Court, but pending that the Court of Appeal’s judgment remains good law. And, as I have predicted previously, I think there may be a number of law firms eyeing the case, and potential clients, expectantly.

The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

Leave a comment

Filed under 7th principle, Data Protection, data security, Fifth principle, Information Commissioner

ACPO: contractor’s error, or data controller’s liability?

I blogged a week or so ago about the worrying fact that the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) were encouraging people to send sensitive personal data over an unsecure HTTP connection.

 a tweet…by Information Security consultant Paul Moore alerted that ACPO’s criminal records office has a website which invites data subjects to make an online request but, extraordinarily, provides by an unencrypted http rather than encrypyted https connection. This is such a basic data security measure that it’s difficult to understand how it has happened…

Well now, thanks to Dan Raywood of ITSecurity Guru, we have a bit more information about how it did happen. Dan had to chase ACPO several times for a comment, and eventually, after he had run the story, they came back to him with the following comment:

The ACPO Criminal Records Office (ACRO) became aware of the situation concerning the provision of personal data over a HTTP rather than a encrypted HTTPS connection on Tuesday February 24. This was caused by a contractual oversight. The Information Commissioner was immediately advised. The secure HTTPS connection was restored on February 25. We apologise for this matter.

It’s good to know that they acted relatively quickly to secure the connection, although one is rather led to wonder whether or when – had not Paul Moore raised the alert – ACPO would have otherwise noticed the problem.

But there is potentially a lot of significance in the words “caused by a contractual oversight”. If ACPO are saying that a contractor is responsible for the website, and that it was the contractor’s error which caused the situation, they should also consider the seventh data protection principle in the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), which requires a data controller (which ACPO is, in this instance) to take

Appropriate technical and organisational measures…against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data

but also

Where processing of personal data is carried out by a data processor on behalf of a data controller, the data controller must in order to comply with the seventh principle—

(a)choose a data processor providing sufficient guarantees in respect of the technical and organisational security measures governing the processing to be carried out, and

(b)take reasonable steps to ensure compliance with those measures

What this means is that a failure to choose a data processor with appropriate security guarantees, and a failure to make sure the processor complies with those guarantees, can mean that the data controller itself is liable for those failings. If the failings are of a kind likely to cause substantial damage or substantial distress, then there is potential liability to a monetary penalty notice, to a maximum of £500,000, from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

In truth, the ICO is unlikely to serve a monetary penalty notice solely because of the likelihood of substantial damage or substantial distress – it is much easier to take enforcement action when actual damage or distress has occurred. Nonetheless, one imagines the ICO will be asking searching questions about compliance with the contract provisions of the seventh principle.

Thanks to IT Security Guru for permission to use the ACPO quote. Their story can be seen here.

The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

Leave a comment

Filed under 7th principle, Data Protection, data security, Information Commissioner, police

ACPO encourage the sending of identity documents over insecure connection

ACPO – the Association of Chief Police Officers – are inviting people to send online data protection subject access request including copies of proof of identity, such as passports or bank statements over an insecure http connection. This is almost certainly in breach of ACPOs obligations under the Data Protection Act.

One of the most important rights under data protection law is that of “subject access”. Section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) provides, in broad terms, that a person may require an organisation to say whether it is processing data about that person, and if so, to be given a copy of it. It was, for instance, through exercise of this subject access right that six journalists recently discovered that they were on the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence database. The DPA recognises the importance of this right by enshrining it in its Schedule One Principles – the sixth principle obliges data controllers to process personal data in accordance with data subjects’ rights under the Act.

The following principle – the seventh – is the one which deals with data security, and it requires data controllers to have appropriate measures in place to safeguard against loss of personal data. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) explains why this is important:

Information security breaches may cause real harm and distress to the individuals they affect – lives may even be put at risk. Examples of the harm caused by the loss or abuse of personal data (sometimes linked to identity fraud) include
– fake credit card transactions;
– witnesses at risk of physical harm or intimidation;
– offenders at risk from vigilantes;
– exposure of the addresses of service personnel, police and prison officers, and women at risk of domestic violence…

But a tweet yesterday (22.02.15) by Information Security consultant Paul Moore alerted that ACPO’s criminal records office has a website which invites data subjects to make an online request but, extraordinarily, provides by an unencrypted http rather than encrypyted https connection.

image1

This is such a basic data security measure that it’s difficult to understand how it has happened – and to confirm their identity people are being encouraged to send highly confidential documents, such as passports, over an unsecure connection. The ICO points out that

Failure to provide the first assurance (encryption) means that any sensitive information transmitted will be viewable via any computer system on the route between the two systems

At a time when there are moves to encrypt all web traffic, the failure to offer encryption on such profoundly sensitive issues as information held by police, and identity documents, is jaw-dropping. The ICO was copied in to subsequent tweets, and it will be interesting to see what action they take.

The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

6 Comments

Filed under Data Protection, data security, Information Commissioner, police