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ICO fines Gloucester Council over Heartbleed failure

13/06/17

Authority failed to respond to warnings over software flaw when outsourcing IT systems

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined Gloucester City Council £100,000 after a cyber attacker took advantages of weaknesses in an outsourcing process to access employees’ sensitive personal information.

Eye on laptop screenThe attacker took advantage of a weakness in the council’s website in July 2014, which led to over 30,000 emails being downloaded from council mailboxes. The messages contained financial and sensitive information about council staff.

The attack exploited the Heartbleed software flaw, which had previously been the subject of warnings from the ICO and the media. The council failed to repair the vulnerability in a timely manner, leaving personal information at risk and breaking data protection law.

The ICO investigation found that the council did not have sufficient processes in place to ensure its systems had been updated while changes to suppliers were made. The attacker contacted Gloucester claiming to be part of Anonymous, a group known for attacks on websites.

Serious oversight

Sally Anne Poole, group enforcement manager at the ICO said: “This was a serious oversight on the part of Gloucester City Council. The attack happened when the organisation was outsourcing their IT systems. A lack of oversight of this outsourcing, along with inadequate security measures on sensitive emails, left them vulnerable to an attack.”

She added: “The council should have known that in the wrong hands, this type of sensitive information could cause substantial distress to staff. Businesses and organisations must understand they need to do everything they can to keep people’s personal information safe and that includes being extra vigilant during periods of change or uncertainty.”

The ICO added that it has recently published a blog on how vulnerabilities in IT systems can leave organisations open to ransomware attacks to help UK businesses.

Image: Electronic Frontier Foundation graphic, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 through Wikimedia.

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