Category: Data breach

Hackers access Microsoft source codes

7. January 2021

In December 2020 cybersecurity firm FireEye reported that it had been attacked by what they called a “highly sophisticated cyber threat actor”, during which copies of its red team tool kit were stolen. Also in December, FireEye disclosed that it discovered attacks on SolarWinds’ tool “Orion” while investigating its own security breach. In a SEC filing, SolarWinds said up to 18,000 of 33,000 Orion customers may have been affected. The attacks may have begun in early 2020.

A group believed to be state-sponsored used contaminated updates for the “Orion” network management software. They accessed a SolarWinds system used to update Orion and from there inserted malicious code into legitimate software updates that were then distributed to customers. The affected versions are 2019.4 through 2020.2.1, which were released between March and June 2020. It is still unclear how the attackers initially gained access to SolarWinds’ network. Security researcher Vinoth Kumar stated on Twitter he contacted SolarWinds in 2019 regarding an FTP access uploaded to GitHub in 2018. Using the password “solarwinds123,” he was able to upload a file to the SolarWinds server as proof of the vulnerability.

Agencies and companies that have been penetrated by the Orion software include the U.S. Treasury Department, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the National Nuclear Security Administration, parts of the Pentagon, Belkin, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, and Nvidia.
The FBI and other U.S. security agencies issued a joint statement calling the attack “significant and ongoing”. Also, agencies and companies in other countries such as Belgium, Canada, Germany, Israel, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates were affected.

So far, it is unclear what damage, if any, was caused by the attacks and what data was accessed. According to reports, in some cases, internal communications were accessed and various documents were copied, with documents relating to ongoing product development, in particular, attracting the attackers’ interest. In an interview published by the U.S. State Department, U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo claimed Russia was responsible for the attack.

“This was a very significant effort, and I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.”

Among those affected, Microsoft is being most viral regarding the hack. In a blog post published on December 31, the company even admitted that the hackers had access to its source codes. According to that post, they were able to view the code but not modify it. Still, this could pose a significant security risk, as the attackers can now study the software’s architecture and look for possible entry points. Microsoft won’t reveal which tool’s source codes the attackers had access to. It also identified more than 40 of its own customers who were targeted.
Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote:

“This is not just an attack on specific targets but on the trust and reliability of the world’s critical infrastructure in order to advance one nation’s intelligence agency.”

This cyber-attack shows the importance of strong cybersecurity for every company and private user, as even tech-giants and fundamental U.S. authorities were victims of this attack. In particular, access to Microsoft’s source codes could be the ground for further attacks on high- and low-profile targets, as Microsoft’s tools are used in businesses of all sizes and by individuals as well.

16 Million brazilian COVID-19 patients’ personal data exposed online

7. December 2020

In November 2020, personal and sensitive health data of about 16 Million brazilian COVID-19 patients has been leaked on the online platform GitHub. The cause was a hospital employee, that uploaded a spreadsheet with usernames, passwords, and access keys to sensitive government systems on the online platforms. Under those affected were also the brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his family as well as seven ministers and 17 provincial governors.

Under the exposed systems were two government databases used to store information on COVID-19 patients. The first “E-SUS-VE” was used for recording COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms, while the second “Sivep-Gripe” was used to keep track of hospitalized cases across the country.

However, both systems contained highly sensitive personal information such as patient names, addresses, telephone numbers, individual taxpayer’s ID information, but also healthcare records such as medical history and medication regimes.

The leak was discovered after a GitHub user spotted the spreadsheet containing the password information on the personal GitHub account of an employee of the Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paolo. The user informed the Brazilian newspaper Estadao, which analysed the information shared on the platform before it notified the hospital and the health ministry of Brazil.

The spreadsheet was ultimately removed from GitHub, while government officials changed passwords and revoked access keys to secure their systems after the leak.

However, Estadao reporters confirmed that the leaked data included personal data of Brazilians across all 27 states.

New Zealand’s Privacy Act 2020 comes into force

4. December 2020

New Zealand’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner announced the Privacy Act 2020 has taken effect. Certain aspects of the Privacy Act came into force on July 1st, 2020, with most operative provisions commencing from December 1st, 2020. The new law affords better privacy protections and greater obligations for organisations and businesses when handling personal information. It also gives the Privacy Commissioner greater powers to ensure the agencies comply with the Privacy Act.

Notably, the updated legislation features new breach reporting obligations, criminal penalties and provisions on international data transfers.

Part 6. of the Privacy Act 2020 covers notifiable privacy breaches and compliance notices. It introduces a new mandatory reporting requirement. When an agency becomes aware of a privacy breach that it is reasonable to believe has caused serious harm to an affected individual or individuals or is likely to do so (unless a specific limited exception applies), the agency must notify the Privacy Commissioner and affected individuals as soon as practicable. In addition, the Privacy Commissioner may issue a compliance notice to an agency to require it to do something or stop doing something to comply with the Privacy Act. For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned that there is no distinction between a data controller and a data processor. The term “agencies” refers to all data processing bodies.

Furthermore, new criminal offences have been incorporated into Part 9. of the Privacy Act (Section 212). It is now an offence to mislead an agency for the purpose of obtaining access to someone else’s personal information – for example, by impersonating an individual or falsely pretending to be an individual or to be acting under the authority of an individual. The Privacy Act also creates a new offence of destroying any document containing personal information, knowing that a request has been made in respect of that information. The penalty for these offences is a fine of up to $ 10,000.

Moreover, in accordance with Part 5. of the Privacy Act (Section 92), the Privacy Commissioner may direct an agency to confirm whether it holds any specified personal information about an individual and to provide the individual access to that information in any manner that the Privacy Commissioner considers appropriate.

What’s more, a new Information Privacy Principle (IPP) has been added to Part 3. of the Privacy Act (Section 22), which governs the disclosure of personal information outside New Zealand. Under IPP 12, an agency may disclose personal information to a foreign person or entity only if the receiving agency is subject to privacy laws that, overall, provide comparable safeguards to those in the Privacy Act.

Apart from that, pursuant to Part 1. of the Privacy Act (Section 4), the privacy obligations also apply to overseas agencies within the meaning of Section 9 that are “carrying on business” in New Zealand, even if they do not have a physical presence there. This will affect businesses located offshore.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards welcomes the Privacy Act, noting that the new law reflects the changes in New Zealand’s wider economy and society as well as a modernised approach to privacy:

The new Act brings with it a wider range of enforcement tools to encourage best practice, which means we are now able to take a different approach to the way we work as a regulator.

Since the Privacy Act 2020 replaces the Privacy Act 1993, which will still be relevant to privacy complaints about actions that happened before December 1st, a guidance has been issued on which act applies and when. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has also published a compare chart that shall help navigate between the acts.

Admonition for revealing a list of people quarantined in Poland

27. November 2020

The President of the Personal Data Protection Office in Poland (UODO) imposed an admonition on a company dealing with waste management liable for a data breach and ordered to notify the concerned data subjects. The admonition is based on a violation of personal data pertaining to data subjects under medical quarantine. The city name, street name, building/flat number and the fact of remaining under quarantine of the affected data subjects have been provided by the company to unauthorized recipients. The various recipients were required to verify whether, in a given period, waste was to be collected from places determined in the above-mentioned list.

The incident already happened in April 2020. Back then, a list of data subjects was made public, containing information on who had been quarantined by the administrative decision of the District Sanitary-Epidemiological Station (PPIS) in Gniezno as well as information on quarantined data subjects in connection with crossing the country border and on data subjects undergoing home isolation due to a confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection. After becoming aware of the revelation, the Director of PPIS notified the relevant authorities – the District Prosecutor’s Office and the President of UODO – about the incident.

PPIS informed them that it had carried out explanatory activities showing that the source of disclosure of these data was not PPIS. These data were provided to the District Police Headquarters, the Head of the Polish Post Office, Social Welfare Centres and the Headquarters of the State Fire Service. Considering the fact that these data had been processed by various parties involved, it was necessary to establish in which of them the breach may have occurred.

UODO took steps to clarify the situation. In the course of the proceedings, it requested information from a company dealing with waste management being one of the recipients of the personal data. The company, acting as the data controller, had to explain whether, when establishing the procedures related to the processing of personal data, it had carried out an assessment of the impact of the envisaged processing operations on the protection of personal data according to Art. 35 GDPR. The assessment persists in an analysis of the distribution method in electronic and paper form in terms of risks related to the loss of confidentiality. Furthermore, the data controller had to inform UODO about the result of this analysis.

The data controller stated that it had conducted an analysis considering the circumstances related to non-compliance with the procedures in force by data processors and circumstances related to theft or removal of data. Moreover, the data controller expressed the view that the list, received from the District Police Headquarters, only included administrative (police) addresses and did not contain names, surnames and other data allowing the identification of a natural person. Thus, the GDPR would not apply, because the data has to be seen as anonymized. However, from the list also emerged the fact that residents of these buildings/flats were placed in quarantine, which made it possible to identify them. It came out that the confidentiality of the processed data had been violated in the course of the performance of employee duties of the data processor, who had left the printed list on the desk without proper supervision. During this time, another employee had recorded the list in the form of a photo and had shared it with another person.

Following the review of the entirety of the collected material in this case, UODO considered that the information regarding the city name, street name, building/flat number and placing a data subject in medical quarantine, constitute personal data within the meaning of Art. 4 (1) GDPR, while the last comprises a special category of personal data concerning health according to Art. 9 (1) GDPR. Based on the above, it is possible to identify the data subjects, and therefore the data controller is bound to the obligations arising from the GDPR.

In the opinion of UODO, the protective measures indicated in the risk analysis are general formulations, which do not refer to specific activities undertaken by authorized employees. The measures are insufficient and inadequate to the risks of processing special categories of data. In addition, the data controller should have considered factors, such as recklessness and carelessness of employees and a lack of due diligence.

According to Art. 33 (1) GDPR, the data controller shall without undue delay and, where feasible, not later than 72 hours after having become aware of the data breach, notify it to the competent supervisory authority. Moreover, in a situation of high risk to the rights and freedoms of the data subjects, resulting from the data breach (which undoubtedly arose from the disclosure), the data controller is obliged to inform the data subject without undue delay in accordance with Art. 34 (1) GDPR. Despite this, the company did not report the infringement, neither to the President of UODO nor to the concerned data subjects.

EDPB adopts first decision under Art. 65 GDPR

20. November 2020

During its 41st plenary session, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) adopted by a two-thirds majority of its members its first dispute resolution decision under Art. 65 GDPR regarding Twitter International Company. The binding decision aims to resolve a dispute arisen from a draft decision by the Irish supervisory authority, being the lead supervisory authority in that case, and subsequent relevant and reasoned objections raised by several authorities concerned.

The Irish supervisory authority prepared a draft decision following an own-initiative investigation into Twitter International Company, after the company had notified the Irish supervisory authority of a personal data breach on January 8th, 2019. According to Art. 60 (3) GDPR, the Irish supervisory authority submitted its draft decision to the other authorities concerned in May 2020, which had the opportunity to express their objections within a period of four weeks afterwards. They referred to, inter alia, violations of the GDPR identified by the lead supervisory authority, the role of Twitter International Company as the sole data controller, and the quantification of the proposed fine.

Due to the fact that the lead supervisory authority rejected the objections and/or considered them not to be “relevant and reasoned”, it submitted the matter to the EDPB pursuant to Art. 60 (4) GDPR, thus initiating the dispute resolution procedure.

Thereupon, the completeness of the file was evaluated, that led to the institution of legal proceedings stated in Art. 65 GDPR on September 8th, 2020. In accordance with Art. 65 (3) GDPR and in conjunction with Art. 11.4 of the EDPB Rules of Procedure, the default time period of one month was extended by a further month on account of the complexity of the subject-matter.

On November 9th, 2020, the EDPB adopted its binding decision and will shortly notify it to the Irish supervisory authority, which, on the other hand, will issue a final decision. It will be addressed to the data controller without undue delay and at the latest by one month after the EDPB has notified its decision. In compliance with the requirements of Art. 65 (6) GDPR, the lead supervisory authority shall inform the EDPB of the date when its final decision is notified respectively to the controller. After that, the EDPB decision will be published on its website.

ICO fines Marriott International

9. November 2020

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) fines Marriott International Inc. (Marriott) £18.400.00  (€20.397.504).

The fine refers to a data breach which occurred in 2018. Back then the world’s largest hotel company based in the USA suffered a massive data breach affecting up to 383 million customers. For Marriott it is still not possible to state the exact number of people affected.

The ICO considers it proven that Marriott failed keeping customers’ personal data secure. In context of the breach confidential data like name, address and contact data as well as unencrypted passport and credit card data has been unauthorized accessed.

In a previous statement in 2019 the ICO announced, that it intends to fine Marriott with a fine of £99.200.396 (€109.969.591) this fine has now been reduced.

The reduction is based on the following reasons: the ICO considered the presentations from Marriott as well as the taken steps by Marriott as well as the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In October, the fine previously issued by the ICO against British Airways was also reduced, again partly because of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the data breach occurred before the UK left the EU, the ICO investigated on behalf of all European Data Protection Authorities as lead Supervisory Authority and the fine has been approved by all other Authorities.

Patients blackmailed after data breach at Finnish private psychotherapy center

An unknown party breached Vastaamo, a Finnish private psychotherapy center. They accessed the electronic patient record, gathering thousands of confidential patient records.  According to a message left on a Finnish web-forum, they accessed up to 40 000 confidential records of psychotherapy patients. These include not only confidential information regarding therapy sessions but also personal information, such as the social security number. In Finland, this number allows the user to take on credits or found companies. On September 29th Vastaamo notified the Finnish authorities, while they notified the affected via E-Mail and letter after October 21st.

Though the attack prompted an emergency meeting of the Finnish Cabinet, up until now neither Finnish authorities nor Vastaamo released information regarding the nature of the breach.

The initial breach likely occurred in November 2018, while it is believed, there was a second attack that occurred before March 2019. In September 2020, the hackers contacted Vastaamo, demanding a payment of 40 Bitcoin (€ 450 000,00). Vastaamo refused to pay and instead contacted the police and other Finnish authorities. On instruction by the Finnish National Police, Vastaamo published information regarding the data breach, only after some of the data was published on the Tor Network on October 21st. Furthermore, the Board dismissed former CEO Ville Tapio, claiming he concealed the breach.

Further, in late October, the hackers sent messages to patients and employees of Vastaamo, threatening to post their patient files on the internet and demanding payments in Bitcoin. The national police advised victims not to pay the hacker, and instead asked them to save extortion emails or other evidence and file a police report. Until October 30th, Finland’s national police received up to 15 000 reports of offenses regarding this data-breach.

The National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health started an investigation of Vastaamo, while the Social Insurance Institution of Finland stopped referrals to Vastaamo.

Ever since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic the healthcare and the public health sectors are attacked more frequently, especially in the form of ransomware. The FBI’s Cyber Security Unit (CISA) and the US Department of Health and Human Services have issued a joint advisory regarding the matter. Adding onto that, according to IBM’s annual Cost of a Data Breach Report, the healthcare sector has the highest average breach cost, at 7.13 million per breach.

Appeal against record fine for GDPR violation in Poland dismissed

22. October 2020

On 10th September 2019 the Polish Data Protection Commissioner imposed a record fine in the amount of more than PLN 2,8 million or the equivalent of € 660.000 on the company Morele.net for violating the implementation of appropriate technical and organisational measures as well as the lack of verifiability of the prior consents to data processing. The Krakow-based company runs various online shops and stores customer data on a central database. According to the Personal Data Protection Office (UODO), there has been 2,2 million customers affected.

Starting point were especially two incidents at the end of 2018, when unauthorised persons got access to the customer database of the company and the contained personal data. The company notified the data breach to the UODO, which accused it particularly of violation of the confidentiality principle (Articles 5 (1) lit. f, 24 (1), 25 (1), 32 (1) lit. b, d, (2) GDPR) by failing to use sufficient technical and organisational measures to safeguard the data of its customers, such as a two-factor authentication. As claimed by the UODO, the selection of the authentication mechanism should always be preceded by an adequate risk analysis with a corresponding determination of protection requirements. The company did not adequately comply with this. However, it should have been sufficiently aware of the phishing risks as the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT Polska) had already pointed it out.

In addition, the UODO accused the company of violation of the lawfulness, fairness, transparency and accountability principles (Articles 5 (1) lit. a, (2), 6 (1), 7 (1) GDPR) by not being able to prove that (where necessary) the personal data from installment applications had been processed on the basis of consents of data subjects. Furthermore, after a risk analysis, the company deleted the corresponding data from the database in December 2018, but according to the UODO, the deletion was not sufficiently documented.

When assessing the fine, there were many aspects which played a decisive role. Most of all, the extent of the violation (2,2 million customers) and the fact that the company processes personal data professionally in the course of its business activities and therefore has to apply a higher level of security. However, mitigating circumstances were also taken into account, such as the good cooperation with the supervisory authority, no previous ascertainable violations of the GDPR and no identifiable financial advantages for the company.

On 3rd September 2020, the Provincial Administrative Court (WSA) in Warsaw issued a judgment on Morele.net’s appeal against the decision. The WSA dismissed the appeal and considered that the decision on the fine imposed on the company was justified. Furthermore, the WSA stated that the UODO had correctly assessed the facts in the case concerned and considered that the fine imposed was high but within the limits of the law and justified by circumstances. It is expected that the company will lodge a complaint with the Supreme Administrative Court of Poland.

H&M receives record-breaking 35 Mio Euro GDPR Fine in Germany

21. October 2020

In the beginning of October, the Hamburg Data Protection Commissioner (“HmbBfDI”) imposed a record-breaking 35,258,707.95 Euro GDPR fine on the German branch of the Swedish clothing-retail giant H&M. It is the highest fine, based on a GDPR violation, a German Data Protection Authority has ever issued.

Since 2014, the management of the H&M service centre in Nuremberg extensively monitored the private lives of their employees in various ways. Following holidays and sick leaves of employees, team leaders would conduct so-called “Welcome Back Talks” in which they recorded employees’ holiday experiences, symptoms of illnesses and medical diagnoses. Some H&M supervisors gathered a broad data base of their employees’ private lives as they recorded details on family issues and religious beliefs from one-on-one talks and even corridor conversations. The recordings had a high level of detail and were updated over time and in some cases were shared with up to 50 other managers throughout the whole company. The H&M supervisors also used this Personal Data to create profiles of their employees and to base future employment decisions and measures on this information. The clandestine data collection only became known as a result of a configuration error in 2019 when the notes were accessible company-wide for a few hours.

After the discovery, the H&M executives presented the HmbBfDI a comprehensive concept on improving Data Protection at their Nuremberg sub-branch. This includes newly appointing a Data Protection coordinator, monthly Data Protection status updates, more strongly communicated whistleblower protection and a consistent process for granting data subject rights. Furthermore, H&M has apologised to their employees and paid the affected people a considerable compensation.

With their secret monitoring system at the service centre in Nuremberg, H&M severely violated the GDPR principles of lawfulness, fairness, and transparency of processing pursuant to Art. 5 no. 1 lit. a) and Art. 6 GDPR because they did not have a legal basis for collecting these Personal Data from their employees. The HmbBfDI commented in his statement on the magnitude of the fine saying that “the size of the fine imposed is appropriate and suitable to deter companies from violating the privacy of their employees”.

British Airways: Fine reduced

20. October 2020

In 2018 British Airways (BA) had to announce that they suffered a massive data breach. The data breach referred to the online booking tool. Login data and credit card data as well as travel data and address data were accessed illegaly. Affected were more than 400.000 customers.

Back in 2019 the UK’s Information Commissioners Office (ICO) evaluated the breach and stated that weak security precautions enabled the hakers to access the data. Thus, the ICO fined BA as a consequence of the breach a record fine of £183.000.000 (€ 205.000.000).

BA appealed against the fine and now – in 2020 – the ICO announced a reduced fine.

On October 16th, 2020, the ICO announced the final sanction for BA. The initial fine of £183.000.000 (€ 205.000.000) has been reduced to a total fine of £20.000.000 (€ 22.000.000). Reason for the reduction is inter alia the current COVID-19 situation and it’s consequences for the Aviation industry.

The notification from the authority states in this context:

As part of the regulatory process the ICO considered both representations from BA and the economic impact of COVID-19 on their business before setting a final penalty.

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