Category Archives: employment law

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.

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Data Protection and Temporary Workers – the Perfect Data Breach Storm?

This morning bought Security News stories from around the globe as usual. One jumped out at me, not because it was unusual but because the wording highlighted to me some dangerous assumptions and errors in thinking that we are guilty of.

advent IM data protection blog

oops there goes the sensitive data. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

The story was about a temporary worker at a hospital who had sent letters which contained highly sensitive childrens data, to the wrong addresses. Apparently the temporary workers who had made this series of errors had not received any DP training. The story explained that the ICO had given a warning that  “even temporary staff should have Data Protection Training”

Bear with me. Last year another breach occurred in a hospital when a temp worked downloaded a large batch of patient data onto a data stick and took it home to work on. Apparently on this occasion it was assumed that Data Protection training had been done by someone else.

Firstly, assuming someone has had training in something is always dangerous. Surely if you are going to allow temporary workers access to such sensitive data it is a must have.  Secondly, is it appropriate for a temporary worker to have that access? Obviously this will vary by incident or role.

Its not just the NHS, businesses make this mistake too. I have seen temporary workers who have had no vetting, logged into networks by well meaning employees on their own login credentials. There they have been able to access any sensitive data they wished and the trusting employee has handed over that organisation’s data to someone who may well damage, steal or sell it.

Back to my original point, to say that ‘even’ temporary workers should have Data Protection training seems a bit like looking the wrong way down a telescope. Surely we should be saying temporary workers especially need Data Protection training?

Cyber Attack and Hack – Is Our Use of Language Creating Security Vulnerabilities in Our Thinking?

Hacking and Cyber attacks have hardly been off our media front pages for a long time. But are businesses and organisations misleading themselves by referring to these incidents as ‘hacks’ or as ‘cyber attacks’? Are businesses actually limiting their thinking and thereby creating vulnerabilities by mislabelling these important events? There is a strong indication this might sometimes be the case.

When we talk about hacking we think about a variety of activities, from the lone, disruptive back-room coder, to the determined and resource-laden gurus of cyberspace who can 

cube

apparently enter our systems at will and remove whatever data they want – maybe government funded but definitely expert and dangerous. Of course, both of these exist but if recent surveys give us any indication of how much these remote threats actually affect our businesses and organisations on a daily basis, it would appear an important part of the threat puzzle is missing. 

According to the Verizon Data Breach Report 2013, more than three quarters of breaches utilised weak or stolen credentials. So either the malfeasant has taken a solid guess that the password will be ‘password’ or has potentially stolen a passcard to a server room or a myriad of other activities which are not hacking but are breach enablers. So the myth of the remote hacker is revealed, at least in the majority of cases to be just that, a myth. With 35% involving some kind of interaction in the physical world, such as card-skimming or theft it underlines the need to move the security focus away from solely cyber.

The same report showed that in larger organisations, ex employees were the same level of threat as existing managers. If we refer to the previous stat then a proportion of those stolen credentials could actually come from ex employees using their old credentials or credentials they had access to, in order to access company networks as happened in the ‘Hacker Mum’ story

Nearly a third of breaches involved some kind of Social aspect, this could be coercion of an existing employee, a phishing campaign or simply walking into a building and charming a staff member such as a receptionist (mines of information that they are) on a regular basis to get information on staff comings and goings etc. It could also involve surveillance of a business over an extended period, including its staff, visitors and contractors.

So the actual ‘hack’ or ‘cyber attack’ is quite an extensive way down the line in this kind of breach. It could have been in planning for months. On one hand this is worrying because our language has encouraged us to focus our attention on only one part of the process. It enables the already prevalent, ‘IT deals with security’ mindset, we have discussed in previous posts.  But in enabling this narrowed view, we are creating a vulnerability and ignoring the opportunities we will have had along the route of this breach to have halted it before anyone even logged on to anything.

A comprehensive program of Security Awareness training in-built into everyone’s role and that training being regular and refreshed, is one helping hand in preventing the attack reaching the actual hack stage. Simple things like ensuring everyone knows not to click on uninvited or suspicious looking links in emails for instance. Being aware of unfamiliar faces  in a building, regardless of whether they are wearing a high vis jacket or lab coat for instance. Social engineers love to hide in plain sight. 

So use of language has ruled out these elements being considered by all staff members, they hear the words ‘cyber’ and ‘hack’ and think it is IT’s responsibility and then carry on as normal. There are many points at which the hack could have been prevented by basic security hygiene or good practice.

It underlines to us that threat to our businesses and infrastructure are holistic and so should the response to that threat be. Yes, there is a threat from the faceless hacker, the determined and well funded professional as well as the random and opportunistic ‘back-bedroom warrior’. But many businesses and organisations are facing a people based threat first.  An old vulnerability being enabled in a new way – language.

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Effective Employee Monitoring or Snooping?

Advent IM, data protection act 1998 Advent IM consultants

CCTV? Phone monitoring? Email monitoring? Vehicle tracking? Personal Data that all falls within The Data Protection Act 1998

Originally published in HR Zone http://www.hrzone .co.uk April 2013

Monitoring employees for potential disciplinary reasons is a standard part of the HR role, however a lack of awareness of how to do this within ICO guidelines and Data Protection best practice could end up in a costly tribunal for employers.

Do you monitor your employees? At a recent Employment Law Seminar (1), I asked that question and hardly anyone showed hands. So I asked if anyone used CCTV, indoors or outdoors. I asked if their vehicles had trackers on them and if they did, were the vehicles allowed for personal use. I asked if they were allowed for personal use, did they switch the tracking off outside of business hours. I asked if internet use was monitored or restricted. Lastly I asked if they monitored phone or email use. I pointed out that even something installed for the safety and security of employees like CCTV is in fact monitoring them and the images could potentially form part of a disciplinary if required. Then I asked again if anyone monitored their employees and virtually everyone raised their hand.

iStock_000015534900XSmallOK so there were some areas of monitoring employers might not have realised they were doing as they had not actively instigated them for monitoring employees with a view to disciplining them. There are other areas of monitoring that are started for clear improvement or disciplinary reasons. It might be an employee using company email for more than the occasional personal purpose or an employee constantly online shopping or browsing porn in work hours on a work computer, or an accusation of physical intimidation of one employee by another. These are example scenarios that might require a business to start surveillance on its employees. However, before swinging into action a business needs to be absolutely certain how to proceed or there may be unintended consequences for the business. These unintended consequences could prove to be costly, not only financially but reputationally.
Certain things need to be in place before effective surveillance can take place. Robust policy is obviously the first place to start. For instance, if employees are allowed to use laptops for personal use and an employee uses it to view porn outside of work hours, have they contravened the policy? Was the policy absolutely crystal clear as to whether or not this would be a disciplinary offense? Do they understand it? The other part of the equation is the policy on monitoring. Are both employers and employees clear on the policy and procedures around monitoring? If you are going to monitor them, you have to be certain. You also cannot simply blanket monitor all employees. You cannot covertly monitor them, your intention or objectives must to be clear and consistent. You must be able to explain to employees:
• Why you are monitoring
• What the process is
• What you are monitoring – systems, applications, hardware etc
• When you will be monitoring
• Who will be responsible for monitoring
• Who will have access to the data generated by the monitoring
• How that resulting data will be held, managed and eventually destroyed
It is vital that the last four points are not overlooked. In our IT driven environment, it frequently falls to IT to roll out the software to carry out monitoring or surveillance. This may be the most practicable solution to initiating the monitoring process, but is it appropriate for IT to have access to the resulting data? Any resulting data from surveillance is sensitive and so employees have every right to expect it to be treated with the same care of duty that their other sensitive or personal information is treated. The data generated from monitoring will be covered by the Data Protection Act (1998) and so clear understanding of who can access it, when they can access it or when it should be destroyed, is vital. Remember, employees have every right to request the data (through a Subject Access Request and this would include CCTV images) that employers hold on them or demand that it be destroyed, if it is felt that retention is not appropriate and in accordance with the Act and local policy. This is because the Act states that the data and images are their property and not their employers. Interestingly a recent survey (3) on Insider Fraud indicated CCTV surveillance as a new monitoring means being enabled by businesses, specifically to combat fraud by employees and not, as has traditionally been, to ensure their safety and security.

Emails or browser histories are fairly obvious data generators, as is call-monitoring. It is worth noting that this kind of information is possibly best routed directly to HR, rather than monitored by IT. Serious misconduct such as viewing child pornography could be inadvertently compounded if it is handled by someone unaware of the law around such matters. In the case of something like child porn, then a well-meaning person accessing whatever images had been viewed or downloaded and saving or downloading them as proof would perhaps not realise that every time they are viewed or downloaded it is an offence…

So making sure that employees know, understand (and confirm they understand) relevant policies relating to their conduct is the start. Ensuring they know, understand (and confirm they understand) the employee monitoring policy is the next stage and presuming the policy is fit for purpose, monitoring can commence. Employers need to be absolutely certain they are conducting monitoring in accordance with the ICO guidelines and within the Data Protection Act (1998). A simple guide exists on the ICO website (2), which is a good place to start.

Clarity, openness and best practice – the cornerstones of good business are the bywords for effective employee monitoring and also help keep a business out of Employment Tribunals.

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1 Waldrons Solicitors Breakfast Seminar Employment Law – available on Slideshare http://www.slideshare.net/Advent_IM_Security
2 Quick Guide to Employment Practices Code http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_organisations/sector_guides/~/media/documents/library/Data_Protection/Practical_application/quick_guide_to_the_employment_practices_code.ashx
3 Ponemon Institute – The Risk of Insider Fraud – Second Annual Study.

Employment Law – Seminar slides now available

Advent IM, data protection act 1998 Advent IM consultants

CCTV? Phone monitoring? Email monitoring? Vehicle tracking? Personal Data that all falls within The Data Protection Act 1998

Effective Monitoring of Employees – Are you monitoring or are you snooping?

The slides from the recent Employment Law Seminar we spoke at for Waldrons Solicitors, are now available on our Slideshare account.
 http://www.slideshare.net/Advent_IM_Security

MM900040991     Watch this space for news of a follow up article

For details of our Data Protection Services please visit the website

http://www.advent-im.co.uk/data_protection.aspx