The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined Gloucester City Council £100,000 after a cyber attacker accessed council employees’ sensitive personal information.
The 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. Despite well publicised 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.
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.”
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 them claiming to be part of Anonymous, a group known for attacks on websites.
Ms Poole 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 has recently published a blog on how vulnerabilities in IT systems can leave organisations open to ransomware attacks to help UK businesses.
Notes to Editors
- The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
- The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
- The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new law that will replace the Data Protection Act 1998 and will apply in the UK from 25 May 2018. The government has confirmed that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.
- The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit. The ICO has the power to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
- Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:
- fairly and lawfully processed;
- adequate, relevant and not excessive;
- accurate and up to date;
- not kept for longer than is necessary;
- processed in line with your rights;
- secure; and
- not transferred to other countries without adequate protection.
- Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
- Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
- To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.