Tag: Data breach

Twitter fined $150m for handing users’ contact details to advertisers

30. May 2022

Twitter has been fined $150 million by U.S. authorities after the company collected users’ email addresses and phone numbers for security reasons and then used the data for targeted advertising. 

According to a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, the social media platform had told users that the information would be used to keep their accounts secure. “While Twitter represented to users that it collected their telephone numbers and email addresses to secure their accounts, Twitter failed to disclose that it also used user contact information to aid advertisers in reaching their preferred audiences,” said a court complaint filed by the DoJ. 

A stated in the court documents, the breaches occurred between May 2013 and September 2019, and the information was apparently used for purposes such as two-factor authentication. However, in addition to the above-mentioned purposes, Twitter used that data to allow advertisers to target specific groups of users by matching phone numbers and email addresses with advertisers’ own lists. 

In addition to financial compensation, the settlement requires Twitter to improve its compliance practices. According to the complaint, the false disclosures violated FTC law and a 2011 settlement with the agency. 

Twitter’s chief privacy officer, Damien Kieran, said in a statement that the company has “cooperated with the FTC at every step of the way.” 

“In reaching this settlement, we have paid a $150m penalty, and we have aligned with the agency on operational updates and program enhancements to ensure that people’s personal data remains secure, and their privacy protected,” he added. 

Twitter generates 90 percent of its $5 billion (£3.8 billion) in annual revenue from advertising.  

The complaint also alleges that Twitter falsely claimed to comply with EU and U.S. privacy laws, as well as Swiss and U.S. privacy laws, which prohibit companies from using data in ways that consumers have not approved of. 

The settlement with Twitter follows years of controversy over tech companies’ privacy practices. Revelations in 2018 that Facebook, the world’s largest social network, used phone numbers provided for two-factor authentication for advertising purposes enraged privacy advocates. Facebook, now Meta, also settled the matter with the FTC as part of a $5 billion settlement in 2019. 

 

Irish DPC fines Meta 17 Million Euros over 2018 data breaches

16. March 2022

On March 15th, 2022, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) has imposed a fine on Meta Platforms 17 million euros over a series of twelve data breaches, which happened from June to December 2018.

The inquiry of the DPC which led to this decision examined the extent to which Meta Platforms complied with the requirements of Arti. 5(1)(f), Art. 5(2), Art. 24(1) and Art. 32(1) GDPR in relation to the processing of personal data relevant to the twelve breach notifications.

As the result of this inquiry, the DPC found that Meta Platforms infringed Art. 5(2) and 24(1) GDPR.  In particular, the DPC assessed that Meta Platforms failed to have in place appropriate technical and organisational measures which would enable it to readily demonstrate the security measures that it implemented in practice to protect the data of its European users in the case of those twelve data breaches.

The processing under examination constituted a “cross-border” processing, and as such the DPC’s decision was subject to the co-decision-making process outlined in Art. 60 GDPR. This resulted in all of the other European supervisory authorities to be engaged in this decision as co-decision-makers.  While objections to the DPC’s draft decision were raised by two of the European supervisory authorities, consensus was achieved through further engagement between the DPC, and the supervisory authorities concerned.

“Accordingly, the DPC’s decision represents the collective views of both the DPC and its counterpart supervisory authorities throughout the EU,” the DPC stated in their press release.

A Meta spokesperson has commented on the decision, stating, “This fine is about record keeping practices from 2018 that we have since updated, not a failure to protect people’s information. We take our obligations under the GDPR seriously and will carefully consider this decision as our processes continue to evolve.”

Names of unvaccinated employees revealed in Canada

23. September 2021

The Ottawa Hospital’s human resources office admitted a data breach caused by a mass email revealing the identities of unvaccinated staff members, CTV News Ottawa reported. The system-generated email was sent on September 8th to employees who had declined the COVID-19 vaccination, making their email addresses inadvertently visible in the recipient section.

The reason for sending the email was the hospital’s expectation that every member would get vaccinated to ensure the safety of the community. To achieve this, education was also to be provided to unvaccinated employees. They were to be invited via email to attend a respective education session.

The hospital already apologized to the affected employees and made efforts to resolve the issue. The contacted IT services immediately recalled the emails, removed it from all inboxes and deleted the copies. Moreover, all those who forwarded the email to personal accounts were asked to delete it. Following an investigation by the hospital’s privacy office, a report to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario has been made as well.

Allegedly, this data breach involved 391 employees whose names were disclosed. However, the number was not officially confirmed by the hospital.

Conclusively, the hospital said in a statement explaining the case:

Health-care workers have worked tirelessly to protect our communities throughout the pandemic, and they deserve protection and support to enable them to do their jobs safely, and to the best of their abilities.

UK Ministry of Defence Data Breaches put more than 300 Afghans in Danger

On Monday, 20 September 2021 the UK Ministry of Defence launched an investigation into a recent data breach. The breach has affected more than 250 Afghan interpreters who have cooperated with Western forces in Afghanistan and who have applied for relocation to the UK. The Ministry sent an e-mail to these Afghan individuals who are still in Afghanistan and are reportedly eligible for relocation. The e-mail included all e-mail addresses, names, and some associated profile pictures in copy (“cc”) instead of blind copy (“bcc”), thus exposing the personal information to all recipients. It was reported that some Afghans have sent reply e-mails to all recipients in the mailing list, even sharing details about their current personal situation.

The following Tuesday, Britain’s Defence Minister Ben Wallace apologised for the data breach publicly in Parliament. He explained that he is aware of the compromise of safety of the Afghan interpreters and has suspended an official as a result of the breach. Upon discovery, the Ministry sent out another e-mail advising the affected individuals to delete the previous e-mail and to change their e-mail addresses. Additionally, the Ministry of Defence will offer extra support to those affected by the incident. The Minister also stated that correspondence processes have already been changed.

In the meantime, a second data breach by the Ministry of Defence was uncovered on Wednesday. This time, an e-mail was sent to 55 people requesting them to update their details after the UK officials were unable to contact them. At least one of the recipients is a member of the Afghan National Army. Again, the e-mail was sent with all recipients in “cc” and not in “bcc”.

Military experts and politicians have criticised the Ministry for the data breaches which unnecessarily endanger the safety of Afghans, many of whom are hiding from the Taliban. The investigation into data handling by the “Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy” team within the Ministry of Defence is still ongoing, a spokesperson of the Ministry has said.

Microsoft informs Azure customers about major vulnerability

31. August 2021

Microsoft notified several thousand customers of its Azure cloud service on Aug. 26, 2021, about a serious security vulnerability that allows unauthorized parties to gain full access to customers’ cloud databases. The vulnerability affects the multi-model NoSQL database CosmosDB, which is one of the cloud service’s key products. Microsoft says it has since closed the gap, but affected customers must take steps themselves to prevent unauthorized access.

As Reuters reports, a research team specializing in security from security firm Wiz discovered the vulnerability in the Azure security infrastructure, which allowed them to gain access to access keys, giving them full access to multiple companies’ databases. The vulnerability was discovered by the researchers on August 9th and reported to Microsoft on August 12th,2021. Wiz later published a blog post explaining the vulnerability. Primary read-write keys allow full access to customer databases. Through a feature called Jupyter Notebook, which was integrated into CosmosDB in 2019, it was possible to gain access to such keys from CosmosDB customers. This made it possible to read, modify and even delete all primary databases. CosmosDB is used by a number of Fortune 500 companies to manage massive amounts of data from around the world in near real-time.

According to Microsoft, the vulnerability was fixed immediately, and no evidence was found that anyone other than Wiz had accessed customer data. Still, Microsoft itself cannot change access keys, so affected customers were emailed on Aug. 26 to change their keys. However, the problem may have affected customers who were not notified. Microsoft has told Wiz that it will pay out $40,000 for reporting the vulnerability.

If you have received a notice from Microsoft and one of your databases is affected that contains personal data, you must assess whether you are required to report this incident to the relevant data protection supervisory authority within 72 hours in accordance with Article 33 of the GDPR. If you believe your organization may be impacted by ChaosDB, please follow the steps described by Wiz in this blog post for detailed instructions on how to protect your environment.

This incident marks the third major security incident involving Microsoft products within 12 months, following the so-called “SolarWinds” hack in December 2020 (please see our blog post) and a large-scale hack of Microsoft Exchange in March 2021 (please see our blog post).

Case dismissed by UK High Court after DSG data breach

20. August 2021

On 30 July 2021, in Warren v DSG Retail Ltd [2021] EWHC 2168 (QB), the UK High Court handed down a judgment that the claimant could not (for the time being) recover damages for data protection breaches.

The litigation was based on the following case: In 2018, DSG Retail Limited (“DSG”) was the victim of a cyber-attack. Hackers had gained access to DSG’s systems and installed malware. DSG was fined £500,000 (EUR 530,000) by the UK Data Protection Authority for failing to take adequate technical and organisational security measures. The company is accused of breaching the seventh data protection principle (“DPP7”) of the Data Protection Act 1998 (“DPA”). This fine has been appealed and is currently under legal review.

This cyber attack also affected the data of the plaintiff Darren Lee Warren.

He based the lawsuit on the theories of breach of confidence (“BoC”), misuse of private information (“MPI”), breach of the Data Protection Agreement (DPA) and common law negligence. The data breach affected data such as name, address, phone number, date of birth and email address.

Warren, however, failed to convince the court with any of his arguments. DSG successfully defended itself against the claim by arguing that it had not itself committed an active unlawful act, but that the breach was caused by an external attack. It also argued that negligence claims were not possible if breaches of the DPA were alleged at the same time. In addition, the DSG argued that a negligence claim required the assertion of compensable damages. Warren was not able to assert such damages.

However, the question of whether a claim for breach of DPP7 could be affirmed was stayed pending a final decision on DSG’s appeal of the ICO fine. Nevertheless, the claim was dismissed on all other points.

British Airways could reach a settlement over the 2018 data breach

7. July 2021

Back in 2018 British Airways was hit by a data breach affecting up to 500 000 data subjects – customers as well as British Airways staff.

Following the breach the UK’s Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has fined British Airways firstly in 2019 with a record fine of £183.000.000 (€ 205.000.000), due to the severe consequences of the breach. As reported beside inter alia e-mail addresses of the concerned data subjects also credit card information have been accessed by the hackers.

The initial record fine has been reduced by the ICO in 2020 after British Airways appealed against it. The ICO announced the final sanction in October 2020 –  £20.000.000 (€ 22.000.000). Reason for the reduction has been inter alia the current COVID-19 situation and it’s consequences for the Aviation industry.

Most recently it has been published that British Airways also came to a settlement in a UK breach class action with up to 16 000 claimants. The details of the settlement have been kept confidential, so that the settlement sum is not known, but the law firm, PGMBM, representing the claimants, as well as British Airways announced the settlement on July 6th.

PGMBM further explains, that the fine of the ICO “did not provide redress to those affected”, but that “the settlement now addresses” the consequences for the data subjects, as reported by the BBC.

The rising threat of Ransomware

28. June 2021

Ransomware attacks are on a steep rise as the global pandemic continues. According to the cybersecurity firm SonicWall, there were more than 304 million attempted ransomware attacks tracked by them in 2020, which was a 62 percent increase over 2019. During the first five months of 2021, the firm detected another 116 percent increase in ransomware attempts compared to the same period in 2020. Another cybersecurity firm called Cybereason found in a recent study interviewing nearly 1,300 security professionals from all around the world that more than half of organisations have been the victim of a ransomware attack, and that 80 percent of businesses that decided to pay a ransom fee suffered a second ransomware attack, often times by the same cybercriminals.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software, which encrypts files, databases, or applications on a computer or network and perpetually holds them hostage or even threatens to publish data until the owner pays the attacker the requested fee. Captivated data may include Personal Data, business data and intellectual property. While Phishing attacks are the most common gateway for ransomware, there are also highly targeted attacks on financially strong companies and institutions (“Big game hunting”).

Alluding to the industry term Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), a new unlawful industry sub-branch has emerged in recent years, which according to security experts lowered the entrance barriers to this industry immensely: Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS). With RaaS, a typical monthly subscription could cost around 50 US-Dollars and the purchaser receives the ransomware code and decryption key. Sophisticated RaaS offerings even include customer service and dashboards that allow hackers to track the status of infections and the status of ransomware payments. Thus, cybercriminals do not necessarily have to have the technical skills themselves to create corresponding malware.

Experts point to various factors that are contributing to the recent increase in Ransomeware attacks. One factor is a consequence of the pandemic: the worldwide trend to work from home. Many companies and institutions were abruptly forced to introduce remote working and let employees use their own private equipment. Furthermore, many companies were not prepared to face the rising threats with respect to their cybersecurity management. Another reported factor has been the latest increase in value of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin which is the preferred currency by criminals for ransom payments.

Successful Ransomware attacks can lead to personal data breaches pursuant to Art. 4 No. 12 GDPR and can also lead to the subsequent obligation to report the data breach to the supervisory authorities (Art. 33 GDPR) and to the data subjects (Art. 34 GDPR) for the affected company. Businesses are called to implement appropriate technical and organisational measures based on the risk-based approach, Art. 32 GDPR.

Earlier this month, the Danish Data Protection Authority provided companies with practical guidance on how to mitigate the risk of ransomware attacks. Measures to ensure the ongoing confidentiality, integrity, availability and resilience of processing systems when faced with ransomware may include providing regular trainings for employees, having a high level of technical protection of systems and networks in place, patching programs in a timely manner, and storing backups in an environment other than the normal network.

Officers’ data leaked in Poland

28. May 2021

The Polish Personal Data Protection Office (UODO) has received a notification of a data breach involving the disclosure of personal data of uniformed services officers. The case is currently being analyzed and supplemented with additional materials and information that shall clarify all its circumstances.

The data controller also notified other authorities about the incident. Among these are the police, the Governmental Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT NASK) and the National Public Prosecutor’s Office. The controller informed UODO that the individuals whose data was subject to the breach would be notified individually through the officers’ home units. Nevertheless, many aspects are still unclear. Therefore, in the course of the investigation, UODO sent a letter to the data controller asking for explanations related to the data breach. Any further action will depend on the information provided by the data controller.

As a result of this situation, UODO emphasises that there is a risk associated with the possibility of unauthorized use of the officers’ personal data, which may involve tangible harm to them. Such activity may include (identity) fraud and invasion of privacy.

In this respect, UODO reminds what actions should be taken to minimize the negative consequences of such a breach. First of all, one should be very careful when providing data via the Internet. Furthermore, it is important to carefully analyse all content included e.g. in SMS messages or e-mails in order to avoid phishing attacks in particular, the aim of which is to obtain additional personal data. In this connection, materials were provided by UODO with further tips on how to reduce the risk of identity theft.

Irish DPC launches investigation into Facebook data leak

26. April 2021

On April 14th, 2021, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) announced it launched an investigation into Facebook’s data leak reported earlier this month (please see our blog post here). The inquiry was initiated on the Irish DPC’s own volition according to section 110 of the Irish Data Protection Act. It comes after a dataset of 533 million Facebook users worldwide was made available on the internet.

The Irish DPC indicated in a statement that, “having considered the information provided by Facebook Ireland regarding this matter to date, the DPC is of the opinion that one or more provisions of the GDPR and/or the Data Protection Act 2018 may have been, and/or are being, infringed in relation to Facebook Users’ personal data”. The Irish DPC further stated that they had engaged with Facebook Ireland in relation to this reported issue, raising queries in relation to GDPR compliance, to which Facebook Ireland furnished a number of responses.

The launch of an investigation by the Irish authorities is significant due to the fact that Ireland remains home to Facebook’s European headquarters. This means the Irish DPC would act as the lead regulator within the European Union on all matters related to it. However, Ireland’s data watchdog has faced criticism from privacy advocates for being too slow with its GDPR investigations into large tech companies. In fact, the inquiry comes after the European Commission intervened to apply pressure on Ireland’s data protection commissioner.

Facebook’s statement on the inquiry has been shared through multiple media, and it has announced that Facebook is “cooperating fully with the DPC in its enquiry, which relates to features that make it easier for people to find and connect with friends on our services. These features are common to many apps and we look forward to explaining them and the protections we have put in place.”

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