Category Archives: data protection act

When is a hack all-white?

From Chris Cope – Advent IM Security Consultant

hacker_d70focus_1What’s the difference between a ‘white hat’ security researcher and a hacker?  As a general rule of thumb, if  someone discovers a vulnerability on your system and informs you (without undertaking any unauthorised or unlawful activity in the process) then a ‘thank you’ is generally considered to be in order.  There are numerous ‘white hat’ researchers who trawl software and internet sites, detecting vulnerabilities and alerting the appropriate owners or developers.  Many companies have benefited from a quiet advisory and it’s reasonable to suggest that without ‘white hats’, the policy of releasing software and patching later, adopted by many vendors, would be severely undermined.

advent IM data protection blog

oops there goes the sensitive data

So why is a white hat researcher, Chris Vickery to be precise, in the news?  Mr Vickery discovered a database on a website.  The website belongs to a company called uKnowKids, this provides a parental monitoring service for your technology savvy children.  The database contained an array of information that the company did not want to be made public, including in the words of the BBC ‘detailed child profiles’.  However, the company claims that the information was not personal data and no customer information was at risk.  Mr Vickery was able to access the data base and take screenshots, which were sent to the company as proof of the vulnerability.  However, rather than thank him, the company accused Mr Vickery of risking their continued viability and claimed that his access was unauthorised.  By Mr Vickery’s account, the database was in a publicly accessible area and had no access controls in place.

Since the notification, uKnowKids has patched the vulnerability.

So what can we take from this?  UKnowKids obviously intended for the database to remain private.  Under UK law, Intellectual Property rights provide protection for confidential information, but there is one pretty fundamental requirement – the information needs to be protected.  Placing a database on a publically accessible internet page, without protection is, however, akin to leaving a sensitive file in paper format on a train.  Organisations shouldn’t be surprised if information left in such a public and insecure state is read by unintended third parties. 

Before protecting information, an organisation needs to understand what information it holds, and what needs protecting.  Once that is established, there are a variety of means that can be used to protect it; physical controls on physical copies, labelling of information, educating staff so they understand the required handling measures and routine audits all form part of the basic protections required for all types of information.  For electronic information, then one needs to consider technical measures such as access controls and encryption.  When a database, containing sensitive information, must be placed in an area where it is accessible from outside the organisation, then access to it must be very carefully controlled.

iStock_000014878772MediumIn this instance, the reputation of a company, which holds intelligence on children, could have been seriously undermined if a hostile breach had occurred, even without the loss of personal information.  If personal information was lost, then the financial implications could have been severe; increasingly so as new EU legislation on data protection comes into effect.  So make sure that you fully understand your assets (including information) and what level of protection they require and, when designing controls, its important to ensure that the full range of counter measures, including physical, personnel, procedural and technical, are considered, properly implemented and integrated.  And if you do come across a publicly spirited individual who warns you of a potential breach in your security, remember to say ‘thank you’.

Data Protection Day 2016!

As it is Data Protection Day, we thought we would take a look at the current state of play when it comes to business impact from data breach and its not pretty reading…

With increasing levels of data being collected every year, now more than ever we need to ensure very high quality processes and practice in our businesses. It is certainly not something to be taken lightly and the changes to EU DP regulations which could result in penalties of  5% of global turnover for serious data breaches, it could actually mean some of the worst offenders face a very uncertain future.

If you are unsure or need some support with Data Protection, don’t leave it to chance; get some proper guidance. Data Protection done well can be a business-enhancing function; raising everyone’s game and awareness of security. It can also mean closer examination of the need to keep all of the data a business currently stores in order to comply with the Data Protection Act.

Here are some of the latest findings on the cost to UK of Data Breach.

data protection day 2016

Round-up: Top posts of 2015

2015 is almost over and we have been pleased and delighted to welcome many new followers and contributors to the Advent IM Holistic Security blog. It’s hard to wade through all the content but we thought it would be nice to present you with a list of some of our most popular posts this year, by month. (This is based upon what people read and not necessarily when they were published.)

jAN 2015In January, we warned you to watch out for phishing emails if you had nice shiny new devices for Christmas. We were recognised as Cyber Security Solution Suppliers to Her Majesty’s Government and we enjoyed a visit from The Right Honourable Francis Maude to talk all things CyberSec.

 

In FFEB 2015ebruary, we had a visit from James Morrison MP to talk about how cyber attacks affect local and national businesses, we launched Whitepaper on CCTV in schools and discussed the key ‘watch-outs’ in off-shoring data in relation to Data Protection

 

MAR 2015In March, we were exhibiting and speaking at the Security & Policing Event at Farnborough (we will be at the next one too, watch this space for details!) Mike Gillespie’s quote in The Sunday Times, talking about SMEs and Cyber Security back in 2014 suddenly shot back up the blog statistics, as people explored some of our older posts.

 

april 2015In April, law firms were in the sights of the ICO and we blogged about it and people looking for Senior Information Risk Owner Training found their way to the blog. Of course, if you do want to book training you need to go via the website

mAY 2015

In May, Ransomware was on everyone’s radar, including ours.  A lot of readers also sought out an old post on mapping the control changes in ISO 27001 2005 vs. 2013 and we were glad they found our tool to help them with this. We think that more businesses will want to think about this standard in 2016 as security awareness continues to grow and the common sense reveals the huge commercial benefits.

JUN 2015In June, the changes to EU Data Protection regulations had a lot of people talking. Dale Penn gave a no nonsense post, explaining what it meant and it was very well received. We had a Risk Assessment methodology post from Del Brazil, talking, Attack Trees. A post that was also very well read came from Julia McCarron who discussed the risk in continuing to run Windows XP

JUL 2015In July, Social Engineering was a key topic and one of our blog posts was very well visited, The Best Attack Exploit by Dale Penn is still receiving visits. Dale also wrote about hacking Planes, Trains and Automobiles, with clarity, as well as the coverage this kind of hacking was receiving.

AUG 2015In August, we heard about Hacking Team being hacked and it revealed some very risky security behaviour. Dale Penn wrote about this event and other security specialists being targeted. In August, a very old blog post started to get some traffic again as people wanted to read about secure destruction of hard drives and a guest post from Malcolm Charnock got hoisted back into the charts.

SEP 2015In September, TOR was in the press sometimes as a hero, but usually as a villain…well perhaps not a villain but certainly suspicious. We tried to throw some light on what TOR is for the uninitiated and explain why and how it is deployed by a variety of users. It came courtesy of Del Brazil. Another very old post on USBs also got raised from the archive – The Ubiquitous Security Breach.

OCT 2015In October, traffic to the blog doubled and we welcomed many more new readers. All of the posts mentioned here were read but far and away the winner was Crime of Our Generation from Chris Cope, talking about TalkTalk’s disastrous breach.  Marks and Spencers were discussed by Julia McCarron in light of their own security failure. Attack of the Drones discussed a variety of drone-related areas, uses and unintended consequences. A nuclear power plant worker was found researching bomb making on a laptop at work and the EU Safe Harbour agreement melted away. It was a very busy month…

NOV 2015In November, The Bank Of England expressed some firm opinion on cyber security requirements in the Financial sector. Morrisons staff took to the courts to sue over the data breach that exposed their personal information. Australia jailed a former junior bureaucrat who leaked defense material onto the notorious 4Chan website. The previous posts on TalkTalk, M&S, BoE, Safe Harbout and EU DP Regulations were also extensively read in November.

dEC 2015And finally, December…Well the Advent Advent Calendar has been a festive fixture for three years now so we had to make sure it was included and it has, as always,  been well trampled and shared. We also added a new festive bit of fun in the form of the 12 Days of a Phishy Christmas and some Security Predictions from the team for 2016. Why would anyone hack the weather? was a look at how attacks can be intended for other parts of a supply chain. Finally TalkTalk popped up in the news and a conversation again, as it emerged that Police had advised the firm not to discuss their breach.

Christmas card 2015

TalkTalk advised not to talktalk about their breach?

According the International Business Times, the Metropolitan Police advised TalkTalk not to discuss their breach. (you can read the article here)

Here, in conversation on the topic , is Advent IM Directors, Julia McCarron and Mike Gillespie and Security Consultant, Chris Cope.

Chris Cope small headshot

Chris Cope

“This is interesting as it shows the 2 different priorities at work.  For the police, the key aim is to catch the perpetrator.  This often means allowing an attacker to continue so they can be monitored on the network and their activities logged and traced without causing them to suspect that they are being monitored in such a way.  The Cuckoos Egg details how the Lawrence Berkeley Lab famously did just this in response to a hack of their system.  However, TalkTalk have a duty of care to their customers.  If personal information could be used to steal money, then they must weigh up the advice from the police, along with the potential impact of not publicising this attack on ordinary people. Its easy to see how a CEO can be caught in between trying to help the police, but also attempting to limit the damage to their customers.  Ultimately it’s a difficult decision, but one that could be made easier with correct forensic planning, i.e. working out how to preserve evidence of an attack, which can be provided to the police, whilst ensuring that normal services continue and customers are warned.  Making these decisions during an actual incident will only make a stressful time even more so; far better to plan ahead.”

Julia McCarron

Julia McCarron

“Totally agree … something to add…

This is a classic case of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. As Chris quite rightly says two different objectives were at play here and each had its merits. Ultimately it was a difficult decision to make but you can’t knock TalkTalk for once, as it appears to have been an informed one.

Whilst I also agree with Chris on the forensics front, experience has shown us that staff need to be aware of what to do ‘forensically’ in the event of an incident and this is often where the process falls down. Because such incidents are usually rare, the chain of evidence is often corrupted unintentionally because no-one knows what to do, or it’s no longer available due to the time lag in occurrence and detection.

Intrusion detection systems along with other technological measures will be an asset in reducing that time lag but key to success is scenario training. In the same way as we are seeing Phishing tests becoming the norm, especially in customer facing organisations like TalkTalk, is there a place for forensic readiness testing to ensure staff know what to do when a security attack occurs? Then vital evidence is at hand when hacks like this occur and the force awakens.”

Mike Gillespie_headshot

Mike Gillespie

“Totally agree, Chris. It’s a tough balance but the protection of the consumer should always come first in my opinion.

Forensic readiness planning is key and continues to be a weak area for many organisations – linking this with an effective communication plan is vital – and as with any plan it needs to be properly tested and exercised…….as do all aspects of cyber response…..using appropriate scenario based exercises.

All of this should be designed to drive continual improvement and to ensure our cyber response evolves to meet emerging threats.”

If you would like support for Cyber Essentials and completing your questionnaire, you can find details here

Morrisons staff suing over data breach. Del Brazil takes a look at what we know and what it might mean.

Advent IM Security Consultant, Del Brazil discusses some of the questions raised by the legal action from Morrisons employees over a data breach that led to their private information being leaked…

It has been reported in Computer Weekly that thousands of Morrisons staff are planning to sue the retailer over a data breach in which a disgruntled former employee published the bank, salary and National Insurance details of almost 100,000 employees, online.

Did Morrisons fail to prevent the data leak that exposed tens of thousands of its employees to the very real risk of identity theft and potential loss?  Only a fully and thorough investigation will reveal the answer along with exactly how the breach was committed and over what period of time the breach occurred.

Any investigation will highlight the security measures deployed at the time of the incident.  A decision will then be made by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) or other investigative body, as to whether the measures implemented were in line with the Data Protection Act and that any measure was correctly configured, managed and/or monitored.

Advent IM Data Protection ConsultantsThe Data Protection Act 7th Principle says that: “Appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data.”

So in simple terms each and every organisation that stores, processes or handles personal data should be able to establish whether they can reasonably do more to protect the personal data they hold.  If the answer raises eyebrows or poses further questions then the simple answer should be yes; however all organisations should be consistently and regularly reviewing their security measures in order to highlight potential weaknesses or areas for improvement. What may be appropriate and adequate at one time, may not always remain the same, so the need for review and testing is key.

iStock_000018385055SmallIn the event that personal data is stolen, changed or misappropriated, then the repercussions to the individual could be devastating.  There is a possibility that their information may be sold on to a third party for spamming purposes or sold on to a criminal organisation with the intent of identity theft. The resulting financial losses to individuals are not only unfair and criminal, on a wholesale basis, but frequently go to fund other criminal and terrorist activities.  Sadly, there is a frequently a somewhat relaxed attitude towards the loss of personal data from an individual’s perspective as they believe that it won’t happen to them. However there is always a risk to your personal information being used for purposes that you are not aware of.  No one should ever be afraid to question an organisation or employer how they protect their information and what measures they are taking to ensure its security.  If there are resulting concerns about levels of protection or safeguards, then the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) may be contacted as they may investigate these concerns further.

Individuals can be quick to pass on their details to organisations/companies for genuine reasons; we all live a digital and data-driven life, in the belief that this information will be adequately protected.  Arguably, in some cases you have no choice than to share personal information especially from an employment perspective and it would reasonable to expect your employer to take sufficient care of your information to prevent it being accessed or passed to individuals/organisations intent on committing some form of illegal activity. Being aware of how our information is protected is not unreasonable and employees have a perfectly reasonable expectation that their employers will consider this part of their duty of care.

stick_figure_pointing_north_america_image_500_clrThe UK can sometimes follow the US culturally and the question has been raised as to whether the culture of litigation is one we can expect to see expand in the UK, particularly with this kind of high profile legal action. There are numerous incidents in the US where companies/organisations have been sued for failing to protect personal information, but can we expect this to become part of our corporate life? This is a very tricky question to answer, as the laws governing the protection of data in the US differ from those in the UK; although they do deliver the same message.  Each and every personal data breach is unique but the re-occurring question in any investigation will always be whether the individual, company and/or organisation took sufficient care to protect personal information by the deployment of appropriate technical, physical and procedural measures and what was the impact to individual concerned?  So whilst the regulation may differ, the spirit of the regulation is consistent and whether this is the future for the UK too will remain to be seen. Certainly we are seeing growing numbers of breaches and it is unlikely that this growth will continue without some kind reaction from the victims.

Advent IM Information Security AuditWhat is the likelihood that the Morrisons legal action is successful?  This would depend on the outcome of the ongoing investigation and as to whether Morrisons was deemed to have adequately protected their employee’s data.  Should the legal bid be upheld then the repercussions may potentially have a massive impact on all organisations storing and/or processing personal information.  There is a likelihood that organisations may go massively overboard with extra or increased measures in an attempt to defeat any possible threat of an insider attack without first reviewing and/or assessing the result of the findings of the ongoing Morrisons case.

The Morrisons data breach does raise a few questions though; what measures are deemed to be appropriate and sufficient to detect and/or deter an insider attack?  There is a fine balance between organisations having a high level of protective monitoring that gives employees the ‘Big Brother’ impression or such a low level that pretty much no monitoring takes place.  A very similar tone could be taken to staff vetting as at what point does vetting no longer be seen as an assurance practice but more of an intrusion into personal life?  These are questions that will continuously trouble both employers and employees.

Organisations are generally over reliant on technical solutions for protective monitoring to provide a quick fix rather than looking at the problem and identifying an appropriate solution.  There are a whole raft of technical solutions available, all of which require an element of physical monitoring and response.  It is an organisational decision as to whether to use a more technical solution with little staff interaction to maintain the system, as opposed to relying more heavily on human inspection of various logs; however consideration should also be given to allowing/ensuring that there are sufficient staff available to respond to alerts or discrepancies that may be detected in whichever solution is deployed.  Organisations should also ensure that they have a tried and tested plan in place to maximise their ability to understand, contain and respond to the ever increasing threat to personal information.

It is the opinion of the author that organisations should employ comprehensive protective monitoring procedures, which when coupled with a degree of staff vetting and a good security awareness programme should demonstrate to any governing body an organisation’s commitment to deterring or detecting insider threats.

Unfortunately the insider threat will never go away and with the value and importance of information increasing rapidly so the temptation for employees to sell personal information also increases.  Every level and type of industry relies upon information, no matter what form it takes and as such, every industry should keep an eye on this case as it develops.

Although organisations should pay close attention to this ongoing legal case raised by Morrisons employees and/or organisations shouldn’t be overly concerned until the full details of the investigation and the outcome of the legal case are made public.

Every organisation should ensure appropriate measures are in place (technical and non-technical) to secure and protect personal information to the best of their ability, including continually educating, training and making their staff aware of the insider threats.

Why every day is Data Protection Day

Excerpt from Outsource Magazine article.

Hopefully it won’t have escaped your attention that the 28th of January marked EU Data Protection Day, also known as Data Privacy Day. This awareness-raising event has moved out of the EU in real terms and activities relating to both protection and privacy happen globally.

Link to the full article here

Data Protection and Off Shoring Data

Some thoughts on EU Data Protection Day from Advent IM and Security Institute Director, Mike Gillespie.

Today (Jan 28th) Is EU Data Protection Day #DPD2014 and it has sparked some interesting content and discussion on Social Media so far.

It has also afforded those organisations who bang the drum for Data Protection and Privacy to bang it a little louder and longer, trying to get the attention of those that really need to take heed.

10118847-10118847-definition-legislationAnyway, the topic of off-shoring services and functions and with going personal data , cropped up. As a data subject I ought to be able to expect to be explicitly consulted if my data is going offshore to a country not on the trusted country list. Personal data according to  Principal 8 of the Data Protection Act (1998)

“…shall not be transferred to  a country or territory outside the European Economic Area unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data”

Principle 2 states

“Personal Data shall be obtained for only one or more specified and lawful purposes and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes”

No organisation should be allowed to hide the intent to offshore personal data in it’s “small print” or to decide to offshore personal data without consulting the data subjects. Some companies pay only lip service to this requirement and data can be shipped around the world to suit the business and without the explicit agreement of the data subject.

Bottom line, businesses off-shore services to save money. However, the cost of maintaining data protection and privacy of personal data and offshore is prohibitive and so guess where the cost is cut? Cheap hosting in non-compliant countries is the cost-saving great hope, it seems. Buying hosting space from a Cloud Broker for instance, means that data could be shuttled around the world to wherever the space is cheapest if end points have not been specified in the SLA and let’s face it, if you priority is cheap then I can’t imagine it being much of a priority…

The European Data Protection Directive defines consent as-

“any freely given specific and informed indication of his wishes by which the data subject signifies his agreement to personal data relating to him, being processed”

So we may expect that the individual may signify agreement other than in writing. However non-communication should not be interpreted as consent. In other words, opt-in not opt-out…

istock_000012299872medium.jpgThe problem is that companies can exploit vague language in the law.  For instance, Personal data should only be processed fairly and lawfully. In order for that data to be classed as ‘fairly processed’ at least one of these six conditions must be applicable to that data (Schedule 2)

  • The data subject (the person whose data is stored) has consented (“given their permission”) to the processing;
  • Processing is necessary for the performance of, or commencing, a contract;
  • Processing is required under a legal obligation (other than one stated in the contract);
  • Processing is necessary to protect the vital interests of the data subject;
  • Processing is necessary to carry out any public functions;
  • Processing is necessary in order to pursue the legitimate interests of the “data controller” or “third parties” (unless it could unjustifiably prejudice the interests of the data subject

So the argument might be that it is OK to offshore because “processing is necessary for the performance of or commencement of a contract and as I have moved my call centre to (for the sake of argument and only as an example) India, and as my contract requires the provision of a call centre then my contractual obligation also requires the move of the personal data to India.

Even when consent is given, it should not be assumed that it is forever. although in most cases, consent lasts for as long as the personal data needs to be processed – individuals may withdraw their consent, depending upon the nature of the consent and the circumstances in which the personal information is being collected and used. How many orgainsations like supermarkets or banks offer you this option? Ever had one of those personal injury or PPI calls and asked them to take you off their list only to be told they can’t delete you because of Data Protection!?

So the Terms and Conditions is where the sneaky stuff hides in clauses that says they reserve the right to have a cavalier attitude to your data (or move it elsewhere for further cheaper processing once its initial processing is complete) should they choose and then label that as your consent…

You can connect with Mike and enjoy further Security Discussions on Linkedin.