Gloucester City Council heavily fined by ICO for leaving personal information “vulnerable to attack”

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined Gloucester City Council £100,000 after a cyber attacker accessed its employees’ sensitive personal information. The attacker took advantage of a weakness in the organisation’s website back in July 2014, which led to over 30,000 e-mails being downloaded from personal mailboxes. The messages contained financial and sensitive information about Gloucester City Council staff.

The attack exploited the ‘Heartbleed’ software flaw. Despite well-publicised warnings from the ICO and the media, Gloucester City Council failed to repair the vulnerability in a timely manner, subsequently leaving personal information at risk and breaking data protection law.

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

The ICO’s investigation found that Gloucester City Council didn’t have sufficient processes in place to ensure that its systems had been updated while changes to suppliers were made.

The attacker contacted the organisation claiming to be part of Anonymous, a group known for attacks on websites.

Poole added: “Gloucester City 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 that they need to do everything they can to keep people’s personal information safe. That includes being extra vigilant during periods of change or uncertainty.”

Adenike Cosgrove, head of cyber security strategy for the EMEA at Proofpoint, commented: “The Gloucester City Council breach serves as a reminder for security teams to patch vulnerabilities, ensure all third party vendors and partners comply with rigorous security practices and encrypt sensitive data to protect it should it be intercepted. In this case, attackers accessed confidential information via Gloucester City Council’s website and internal e-mails. Both e-mail and web channels continue to be the favoured entry points for cyber criminals as they’re public-facing and relatively easy to exploit via vulnerabilities, social engineering or some combination of the two.”

Cosgrove continued: “We expect to see more fines like this as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation takes effect next year. Organisations must take stock now and have a good understanding of all personal data they host and where it resides and, most importantly, take all the necessary steps needed to protect it from threat actors.”

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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