Weekly Roundup: Global Cyber-Attack, Google Scan Emails, Political Party Under Investigation, Nuisance Calls Fine

Malware outbreak in 64 countries, Google scrap email scans, and the Conservative Party face ‘serious allegations’

Global cyber-attack disrupts companies in 64 countries

Corrupted Ukrainian accountancy software ‘MEDoc’ is suspected to be the medium of a cyberattack on companies ranging from British ad agency WPP to Tasmanian Cadbury’s factory, with many European and American firms reporting disruption to services. Banks in Ukraine, Russian oil giant Rosneft, shipping giant Maersk, a Rotterdam port operator, Dutch global parcel service TNT and US law firm DLA Piper were among those suffering inabilities to process orders or else general computer shutdowns.

Heralded as “a recent dangerous trend” by Microsoft, this attack comes just 6 weeks after the WannaCry attack primarily affecting NHS hospitals. Both attacks appear to make use of a Windows vulnerability called ‘Eternal Blue,’ thought to have been discovered by the NSA and leaked online – although the NSA has not confirmed this. The NSA’s possible use of this vulnerability, which has served to create a model for cyber-attacks for political and criminal hackers, has been described by security experts as “a nightmare scenario.”

A BBC report suggests that given 80% of all instances of this malware were in Ukraine, and that the provided email address for the ‘ransom’ closed down quickly, the attack could be politically motivated at Ukraine or those who do business in Ukraine. Recent announcements suggest it could be related to data not money.

The malware appears to have been channelled through the automatic update system, according to security experts including the malware expert credited with ending the WannaCry attack, Marcus Hutchins. The MEDoc software would have originally begun this process legitimately, but at some point the update system released the malware into numerous companies’ computer systems.

 

Google to stop scanning Gmail accounts for personalised marketing data

In a blog published at the end of last week, the tech firm Google have confirmed that they will stop scanning Gmail users’ emails for the sake of accruing data to be used in personalised adverts, by the end of the year. This will put the consumer version of Gmail in line with the business edition.

Google had advertised their Gmail service by offering 1GB of ‘free’ webmail storage. However, it transpired that Google was paying for this offer by running these scans.

This recent change in tactic has been met with ‘qualified’ welcome by privacy campaigners. Executive director Dr Gus Hosein of Privacy International, the British charity who have been campaigning for regulators to intervene since they discovered the scans, stated:

When they first came up with the dangerous idea of monetising the content of our communications, Privacy International warned Google against setting the precedent of breaking the confidentiality of messages for the sake of additional income. […] Of course they can now take this decision after they have consolidated their position in the marketplace as the aggregator of nearly all the data on internet usage, aside from the other giant, Facebook.

Google faced a fairly substantial backlash on account of these scans when they were discovered, notably from Microsoft, with their series of critical ‘Gmail man’ adverts, depicting a man searching through people’s messages.

However, digital rights watchdog Big Brother Watch celebrated Google’s move, describing it as “absolutely a step in the right direction, let’s hope it encourages others to follow suit.”

UK Conservative Party under investigation for breaching data protection and election law

A Channel 4 News undercover investigation has provoked ‘serious allegations’ of data protection and election offences against the Conservative Party.

The investigation uncovered the party’s use of a market research firm based in Neath, South Wales, to make thousands of cold calls to voters in marginal seats ahead of the election this month. Call centre staff followed a ‘market research’ script, but under scrutiny this script appears to canvass for specific local Conservative candidates – in a severe breach of election law.

Despite the information commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s written warnings to all major parties before the election began, reminding them of data protection law and the illegality of such telecommunications, the Conservatives operated a fake market research company. This constitutes a breach separate to election law, and mandates the Information Commissioner’s Office to investigate.

The ICO’s statement on 23rd June reads,

The investigation has uncovered what appear to be underhand and potentially unlawful practices at the centre, in calls made on behalf of the Conservative Party. These allegations include:

  • Paid canvassing on behalf of Conservative election candidates – banned under election law.
  • Political cold calling to prohibited numbers
  • Misleading calls claiming to be from an ‘independent market research company’ which does not apparently exist

MyHome Installations Ltd fined £50,000 for nuisance calls

Facing somewhat less public scrutiny and condemnation than the Conservative Party, Maidstone domestic security firm MyHome Installations has been issued a £50,000 fine by the ICO for making nuisance calls.

The people who received these calls had explicitly opted out of telephone marketing by registering their numbers with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), the “UK’s official opt-out of telephone marketing.”

The ICO received 169 complaints from members of the public who’d received unwanted calls about electrical surveys and home security from MyHome Installations Ltd.

Harry Smithson 28 June 2017

Largest cyber attack on Parliament to date prompts fears of major national security compromise

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox stressed that “it’s a warning to everybody, whether they are in Parliament or elsewhere that they need to do everything possible to maintain their own cyber security.”

 

MPs took to Twitter and social media to notify their constituents as their parliamentary email accounts were besieged by a concerted 12-hour ‘brute force’ cyberattack targeting ‘weak passwords.’

On Friday night, parliamentary officials “discovered unauthorised attempts to access accounts of parliamentary networks users.” In response, remote access to the network was cut off, meaning that MPs and aides could not access their official email accounts outside of Westminster.

Parliamentary officials have been working with the National Cyber Security Centre, part of intelligence agency GCHQ, to investigate the attempted breach and assess the potential compromise to national security.

The NCSC’s latest statement on their website, as of Saturday, reads:

The NCSC is aware of an incident and is working around the clock with the UK Parliamentary digital security team to understand what has happened and advise on the necessary mitigating actions.

It is still unclear whether the attempts were successful, or whether any confidential information in the network has been acquired. Moreover, MPs and cyber specialists can only speculate as to the identity of the cyber-attackers.

However, whether those responsible for the attack are foreign ‘state actors’ or organised criminals, the compromise to the confidentiality of private or personal information and national security details is a major risk. Security advisors have warned that the parliamentary email network is a ‘treasure trove’ of information not only for blackmailers, but also for hostile states, crime syndicates and terrorist organisations.

Many Twitter users following the story have been quick to link this attempted breach to Russian state agencies (some using the hashtag #russia), citing interference in European and American elections, as well as the cyberattack on the German Bundestag in 2015, as prior examples of similar assaults on democratic institutions. However, the relatively rudimentary nature of the ‘brute force’ attempted password hacks on Parliament on Friday contrasts, for instance, with the sophisticated attempt to install remote data monitoring software onto the German state’s computer systems two years ago, which German authorities blamed on Russian agents.

While government sources have stated that it is too early to draw conclusions regarding the fallout of the event or the perpetrators, MPs have acknowledged the extent of the threat posed by cybercrime. Tory MP for NW Leicestershire, Andrew Bridgen, stated, “if people thought our emails were not secure it would seriously undermine our constituents’ confidence and trust in approaching their MP at a time of crisis.”

Referencing the ‘WannaCry’ attack on 48 NHS hospitals only a month ago, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said it was ‘no surprise’ that Parliament would face hacking attempts given the recent attack on our public services.

In the Queen’s Speech last week, the government outlined plans to improve data protection with a new Data Protection Bill, but this did not provide details of plans to counter threats of largescale hacking or cybercrime at home or abroad.

The government indicated, however, that they hoped the new law would help them to collaborate with former EU partners and international allies in order to confront threats to global security, threats in which cyber-conflict plays an increasingly prominent role. It may well be that these measures are following up the government’s statement in 2015 in the National Security Strategy that cyber-attacks from both organised crime and foreign intelligence agencies are one of the “most significant risks to UK interests.”

GDPR Re-Permissioning needs careful planning

Morrisons becomes the latest high-profile company fined for breaking Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR)

The ICO, the independent authority responsible for investigating breaches of data protection law, has fined the fourth largest supermarket chain in the UK £10,500 for sending 130,671 of their customers’ unsolicited marketing emails.

These customers had explicitly opted-out of receiving marketing emails related to their Morrisons ‘More’ loyalty card when they signed up to the scheme. In October and November 2016, Morrisons used the email addresses associated with these loyalty cards to promote various deals. This is in contravention of laws defining the misuse of personal information, which stipulate that individuals must give consent to receive personal ‘direct’ marketing via email.

‘Service emails’ versus ‘Marketing emails’

While the emails’ subject heading was ‘Your Account Details,’ the customers were told that by changing the marketing preferences on their loyalty card account, they could receive money off coupons, extra More Points and the company’s latest news.

The subject heading might suggest to the recipient that they are ‘service emails,’ which are defined under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) as any email an organisation has a legal obligation to send, or an email without which an individual would be disadvantaged (for instance, a reminder for a booked train departure). But there is a fine line between a service email and a marketing email: if an email contains any brand promotion or advertising content whatsoever, it is deemed the latter under the DPA. Emails that ask for clarification on marketing preferences are still marketing emails and a misuse of personal contact data.

Morrisons explained to the ICO that the recipients of these emails had opted-in to marketing related to online groceries, but opted-out of marketing related to their loyalty cards, so emails had been sent for the ostensible purpose of qualifying marketing preferences which also included promotional content. Morrisons could not provide evidence that these customers had consented to receiving this type of email, however, and they were duly fined – although in cases such as this it is often the losses from reputational damage that businesses fear more.

Fines and reputational damage

This comes just three months after the ICO confirmed fines – for almost identical breaches of PECR – of £13,000 and £70,000 for Honda and Exeter-based airline Flybe respectively. Whereas Honda could not prove that 289,790 customers had given consent to direct e-marketing, Flybe disregarded 3.3 million addressees’ explicit wishes to not receive marketing emails.

Even a fine of £70,000 – which can currently be subject to a 20% early payment discount – for sending out emails to existing customers with some roundabout content in them for the sake of promotion, will seem charitable when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) updates the PECR and DPA in 2018. Under the new regulations, misuse of data including illegal marketing risks a fine of up to €20 million or 4% of annual global turnover.

The ICO has acknowledged Honda’s belief that their emails were a means of helping their firm remain compliant with data protection law, and that the authority “recognises that companies will be reviewing how they obtain customer consent for marketing to comply with stronger data protection legislation coming into force in May 2018.”

These three cases are forewarnings of the imminent rise in stakes for not marketing in compliance with data protection law. The GDPR, an EU regulation that will demand British businesses’ compliance irrespective of Brexit, not only massively increases the monetary penalty for non-compliance, but also demands greater accountability to individuals with regard to the use and storage of their personal data.

The regulators recent actions show that companies will not be able cut legal corners under the assumption of ambiguity between general service and implicit promotional emails. And with the GDPR coming into force next year, adherence to data protection regulations is something marketing departments will need to find the time and resources to prepare for.

Harry Smithson, 22/06/17

Queen’s Speech Confirms New Bill to Replace Data Protection Act 1998

As part of several of measures aimed at “making our country safer and more united,” a new Data Protection Bill has been announced in the Queen’s Speech.

The Bill, which follows up proposals in the Conservative manifesto ahead of the election in June, is designed to make the UK’s data protection framework “suitable for our new digital age, allowing citizens to better control their data.”

The intentions behind the Bill are to:

  • Give people more rights over the use and storage of their personal information. Social media platforms will be required to delete data gathered about people prior to them turning 18. The ‘right to be forgotten’ is enshrined in the Bill’s requirement of organisations to delete an individual’s data on request or when there are “no longer legitimate grounds for retaining it.”
  • Implement the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, and the new Directive which applies to law enforcement data processing. This meets the UK’s obligations to international law enforcement during its time as an EU member state and provides the UK with a system to share data internationally after Brexit is finalised.
  • To update the powers and sanctions available to the Information Commissioner.
  • Strengthen the UK’s competitive position in technological innovation and digital markets by providing a safe framework for data sharing and a robust personal data protection regime.
  • Ensure that police and judicial authorities can continue to exchange information “with international partners in the fight against terrorism and other serious crimes.”

Ultimately, the Bill seeks to modernise the UK’s data protection regime and to secure British citizens’ ability to control the processing and application of their personal information. The Queen’s Speech expressed the Government’s concern not only over law enforcement, but also the digital economy: over 70% of all trade in services are enabled by data flows, making data protection critical to international trade, and in 2015, the digital sector contributed £118 billion to the economy and employed over 1.4 million people across the UK.

Written by Harry Smithson, 22nd June 2017

Phishing ..Christmas..a time for taking?

phishing-alertThere I was, at my desk on Monday morning, preoccupied with getting everything done before the Christmas break, and doing about 3 things at once (or trying to).  An email hit my inbox with the subject “your account information has been changed”.  Because I regularly update all my passwords, I’m used to these kinds of emails arriving from different companies – sometimes to remind me that I’ve logged in on this or that device, or to tell me that my password has been changed, and to check that I the person who actually changed it.

As I hadn’t updated any passwords for a couple of days, I was rather intrigued to see who had sent the email, and I immediately  opened it.  It was from Apple to say I’d added an email as a rescue email to my Apple ID.

apple-email

Well that sounded wrong, so I clicked on the link to ‘Verify Now’ and was taken to a page that looked pretty legitimate.

apple-email-link

 

I thought I should see what was actually going on, so I logged in to my Apple ID using my previous password.  If I had been in any doubt, the fact that it accepted my out-of-date password made it very clear that this was a scam.

The site asked me to continue inputting my data.  At the top of the pages are my name and address details.  It’s also, for the first time, telling me that my account is suspended – always a hacker’s trick to get you worried and filling in information too quickly to think about what you’re actually doing.

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Then the site starts to request credit card details and bank details …

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And finally my date of birth so they can steal my identity, and a mobile number so that they can send me scam texts.

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I know seven other people who received exactly the same email. And it’s just too easy to fall for, so any number of people could be waking up tomorrow with their identity stolen, and bank account and credit cards stripped of all money or credit.

With that in mind, here are some things to look out for in phishy (see what I did there) emails:

  1. Check the email address the email came from! If it looks wrong – it probably is!
  2. Hover your mouse over the links in the email to see where they take you. If this email had really been Apple it would have gone to an https:\\ address, at apple.co.uk
  3. Check grammatical errors in the text of the letter

Now if you do fall for an email as well executed as this, and if I’m completely honest, I’m shocked at how close to a real Apple email and website they looked, make sure you notify your bank and credit card companies immediately.  Change all of your passwords as soon as possible because if you use the same log in combination for any other accounts those could be targeted next.

Christmas has always been a time for giving.  Now it’s become the prime time for taking.

charlotte-seymour-2016

 

Written by Charlotte Seymour, 22nd December 2016

Data Compliant’s Weekly Round-Up

hacker-1

It’s the weekend before Christmas. Have you done all your Christmas shopping? If you’re shopping online, this is the last weekend you can really do your online shopping and still get everything delivered on time. 

Now you may be bored of hearing it but please be careful, look after your passwords, change them regularly, don’t have devices store your information! Lets start the year without a stranger stealing money from your credit cards and bank accounts!

Yahoo…Again 

This week brings us the news that Yahoo had announced a hack from 2013 – a separate breach to the 500,000 hacked records announced in September. 

Yahoo was investigating the 2014 breach when it uncovered the earlier hack – this time discovering that a billions accounts had been compromised. 

The reputational damage to Yahoo is enormous – a clear pattern of poor security is emerging and if I had an account with Yahoo, I’d be considering changing my provider immediately.  Having said that, though,  how can we be certain that other companies haven’t had similar breaches and we just don’t know about them yet?

The ICO’s deputy commissioner, Simon Entwisle has released a statement saying that they are talking to Yahoo and will try to find out how many UK users have been affected by the latest hack. Their immediate advice is to recommend  strongly that customers change their passwords if they haven’t already.

TalkTalk
An update on the huge TalkTalk hack has been released. One of the hackers, a 17 year old, has admitted to 7 offences relating to the hack and has been given a 12-month rehabilitation order and an £85 fine. He was 
told his excellent computer skills need to be used for the good. 19-year old Daniel Kelley also pleaded guilty. He has been told that a jail sentence is inevitable, and has been released on bail prior to sentencing in March.

Uber
Uber has come under fire after an ex-worker claimed that staff could track fares of celebrities, politicians and even ex-partners. If that’s true, it’s lucky for me I’ve only ever used it in Australia where no exes live and unfortunately I’m not yet a celeb!

Uber released a statement to the Standard stating that the claims made by Mr Spangenberg are “absolutely not true … we have hundreds of security and privacy experts working round the clock  to protect our data … all potential violations are quickly and thoroughly investigated.” Uber also makes it clear that access to personal data is limited to approved workers who may only access the data they need in order to perform their job function. 

Lionhead Studio just as bad as ‘Trolls”?
It has been released this week at a BAFTA event that a teenager targeted Sam van Tilburgh and his team, back in 2003, when they were creating the game Fable. The teen released a screen shot of the hero stabbing a child in the head – something no one was expecting to see. 

Rather than go through official routes, Tilburgh and team decided adopt an unconventional aporiach. They were able to track the boy’s IP address and let care the teenager. They then ‘acquired’ some of his school work from and published a part of it, with a demand that he stop or they would publish more and tell be his family what he was up to. He did indeed stop.

Tilburgh said Lionhead’s legal team knew nothing of the retaliating hack, and it has taken 13 years for the story to surface! I wonder if there’ll be repercussions.

The National Lottery hit with fine
So it wasn’t so long ago we heard that hackers had attacked The National Lottery (TNL). Today we hear TNL’s operator Camelot has been issued with a fine of £3m because of a fraudulent payout back in 2009. How this happened has not yet been announced but  it sounds as if a ‘deliberately damaged ticket’ was to blame. The prize fund payout is suspected to be around £2.5m but the actual figure has not yet been officially released.

I, for one will continue to buy my lottery tickets. Although The National Lottery has come under fire recently, it has fuelled a whopping £36 billion into good causes such as sports, community and heritage projects. Also imagine if you won.. (legitimately)

charlotte-seymour-2016

Written by Charlotte Seymour, 17th December 2016

RSPCA and British Heart Foundation Fined

CHARITY FINED.jpg

So it’s getting closer and closer to Christmas – a time for giving, with more and more charity adverts on the TV, on the radio, on social media – in fact  pretty much everywhere you look. Although Christmas can be a bit tight on the purse strings thousands of people still give to their favourite charities. 

Whether you’re helping children, refugees, animals or cancer or medical research, these organisations all promote that the money goes to a good cause. Unless this ‘good cause’ is to pay an ICO fine…?

Two of the major charities we all know and love are the RSPCA and the British Heart Foundation. And both have been under investigation for secretly screening its donors aiming to target those with more money. This process is known as “wealth-screening”. 

The two organisations hired wealth management companies who pieced together information on its donors from publicly available sources to build data on their income, property value and even friendship circles. This allowed for a massive pool of donor data to be created and sold.

The RSPCA and BHF were part of a scheme called Reciprocate where they could share and swap data with other charities to find prospective donors. Donors to both charities were given an opt-out option. 

Information included in the scheme was people’s names, addresses, date of birth and the value and date of their last donation. The ICO ruled that the charities didn’t provide a clear enough explanation to allow consumers to make an educated decision what it was they were signing up for, and therefore ruled that they had therefore not given their consent.

The RSPCA has admitted that it was not aware of the actual charities with whom they were sharing their data.  It also became clear that the charity shared data of those donors who had opted out. 

The BHF insists it had all the correct permissions. However the ICO disagrees on the basis that the charities with whom they were sharing the data were not for similar causes.

The ICO has fined the RSPCA £25,000 and the British Heart Foundation £18,000. Ironically the BJF was praised on its data handling by the ICO in June this year, and it is likely to appeal the fine. 

In my opinion I feel the whole thing is a mess. I like to give to charity when I can, which if I’m honest, isn’t as frequent as I’d like. 

However when you hear of debacles like this, it really does put you off. I want my money to go to a good cause. I don’t want my data being shared without my knowledge so that other charities can investigate how much I earn, whether I own my property and what social circles I move in, and then decide whether I’m worth targeting. Surely these charities should be thankful for every single donation. The widow’s mite springs to mind. 

I feel for the poor animals and souls that rely on these charities, who are I’m sure going to take a hit from these fines. It’s not their fault, yet no doubt it’s them that’s going to pay the price.

charlotte-seymour-2016

 

Written by Charlotte Seymour, 8th December 2016.