Tag: Microsoft

EDPS investigating EU institutions’ use of US cloud services

2. June 2021

The European Data Protection Supervisor (“EDPS”) announced on May 27th, 2021, that it has opened an investigation into the use of Microsoft’s Azure and Amazon’s AWS by EU institutions and has begun an audit of the European Commission’s use of Microsoft Office 365. The EDPS is the EU.s data protection authority.

The EDPS is the independent supervisory authority responsible for monitoring the processing of personal data by EU institutions and bodies.

Both investigations are a consequence of the Schrems II ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) on June 16th, 2020 (please see our blog post). The CJEU ruled that U.S. its intense surveillance practices do not comply with the GDPR’s data protection standards. Accordingly, personal data of EU citizens may not be processed in the U.S. solely on the basis of the protection provided by so-called standard contractual clauses. Controllers, in cooperation with data importers, must examine and adapt additional measures on a case-by-case basis to ensure a level of data protection equivalent to the GDPR.

The investigations will examine whether EU institutions are complying with data protection rules and the Schrems II ruling.

Wojciech Wiewiórowski, EDPS head, is quoted in the EDPS announcement:

I am aware that the “Cloud II contracts” were signed in early 2020 before the “Schrems II” judgement and that both Amazon and Microsoft have announced new measures with the aim to align themselves with the judgement. Nevertheless, these announced measures may not be sufficient to ensure full compliance with EU data protection law and hence the need to investigate this properly.

If the EDPS finds that Cloud II contracts do not comply with the Schrems II ruling, this could force EU institutions to switch to alternative cloud providers based in the EU in the future, as the EDPS has stated that he wants EU institutions to lead by example.

Microsoft Cloud Services will store and process EU data within the EU

7. May 2021

On May 7th, 2021, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer, announced in a blogpost that Microsoft will enable its EU commercial and public sector customers to store all their data in the EU. Microsoft calls this policy “EU Data Boundary” and it will apply across all of Microsoft’s core business cloud services, such as Azure, Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365. Microsoft is the first big cloud provider to take such a step. The transition is intended to be done by the end of 2022.

This move can be seen as a reaction to the Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) “Shrems II” ruling in June 2020 (please see our blogpost), in which the CJEU ruled that the “EU-US-Privacy Shield” does not provide sufficient protection and therefore invalidating the agreement. The “Privacy Shield” was a framework for regulating the transatlantic exchange of personal data for commercial purposes between the EU and the USA.

However, the CJEU has clarified that server location and standard contractual clauses alone are not sufficient to meet the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This is because under U.S. law such as the “CLOUD Act”, U.S. law enforcement agencies have the power to compel U.S.-based technology companies to hand over requested data stored on servers, regardless of whether the data is stored in the U.S. or on foreign soil. So even with Microsoft’s proposed changes, U.S. authorities would still be able to access EU citizens’ personal data stored in the EU.

Microsoft believes it has found a way around the U.S. intelligence agencies: The U.S. intelligence agencies’ right of access could be technically worked around if customers effectively protected their data in the cloud themselves. To do this, customers would have to encrypt the data with a cryptographic key. In such a case, it would not be Microsoft that would manage the keys, but the customer themselves, and it would not be possible for Microsoft to hand over the keys to the US intelligence agencies. Microsoft also states that they are going above and beyond with their “Defending your Data” (please see our blogpost) measures to protect their customers’ data.

These measures by Microsoft are a step in the direction of a GDPR-compliant use of cloud applications, but whether they are sufficient to meet the high requirements of the GDPR may be doubted given the far-reaching powers of the US intelligence agencies. The reference to the possibility that users can encrypt their data themselves and keep the keys should help to comply with EU data protection standards, but must also be implemented in practice. Microsoft will have to educate its customers accordingly.

The GDPR-compliant transfer of personal data of EU citizens to the US remains uncertain territory, although further positive signals can be observed. For example, the new U.S. administration under President Joe Biden recently showed itself open to concluding a new comprehensive data protection agreement with the EU.

Microsoft Exchange Target of Hacks

29. March 2021

Microsoft’s Exchange Servers are exposed to an ever-increasing number of attacks. This is the second major cyberattack on Microsoft in recent months, following the so-called SolarWinds hack (please see our blog post). The new attacks are based on vulnerabilities that have been in the code for some time but have only recently been discovered.

In a blog post published on March 2nd, 2021, Microsoft explains the hack and a total of four found vulnerabilities. The first vulnerability allows attackers to gain access to a Microsoft Exchange Server, the second vulnerability allows them to execute their code on the system, and the third and fourth vulnerabilities allow the hacker write access to arbitrary files on the server. Microsoft Exchange Server versions 2019, 2016, 2013 and 2010 are affected, and Microsoft released a security update for all of them on March 2nd, even though support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 ended in October 2020.

Reportedly, Microsoft was informed about the vulnerability in January. Since then, a growing number of hacker groups have started to use the exploit. The initial campaign is attributed to HAFNIUM, a group believed to be state-sponsored and operating out of China. According to Microsoft, the vulnerabilities have been in the code for many years without being discovered. Only recently has Microsoft become aware of these vulnerabilities and begun working on them. Microsoft shared information on the vulnerability through the Microsoft Active Protections Program (Mapp), where they share information with a group of 80 security companies. The attacks began shortly after Microsoft began working to resolve the vulnerabilities. There are many similarities between the code Microsoft shared through Mapp and the code the attackers are using.

In an article about a recently published One-Click Exchange On-premises Mitigation Tool (EOMT), Microsoft developers describe how admins can secure Exchange servers against the current attacks within a very short amount of time. The tool only serves as an initial protective measure. For comprehensive protection, available security updates must be installed. In addition, it must be checked whether the hackers have already exploited existing gaps to leave behind backdoors and malware. This is because the updates close the gaps, but do not eliminate an infection that has already occurred. Hackers often do not use gaps immediately for an attack, but to gain access later, for example for large-scale blackmail.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), organizations affected by an attack on personal data must, in certain circumstances, report such an incident to the relevant supervisory authority and possibly to the affected individuals. Even after a successful patch, it should be kept in mind that affected organizations were vulnerable in the meantime. Pursuant to Art. 33 of the GDPR, system compromises that may affect personal data and result in a risk to data subjects must be notified to the competent supervisory authority. For such a notification, the time of discovery of the security breach, the origin of the security breach, the possible scope of the personal data affected, and the first measures taken must be documented.

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.

Microsoft reacts on EDPB’s data transfer recommendations

24. November 2020

Microsoft (“MS”) is among the first companies to react to the European Data Protection Board’s data transfer recommendations (please see our article), as the tech giant announced in a blog post on November 19th. MS calls these additional safeguards “Defending Your Data” and will immediately start implementing them in contracts with public sector and enterprise customers.

In light of the Schrems II ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) on June 16th, the EDPB issued recommendations on how to transfer data into non-EEA countries in accordance with the GDPR on November 17th (please see our article). The recommendations lay out a six-step plan on how to assess whether a data transfer is up to GDPR standards or not. These steps include mapping all data transfer, assessing a third countries legislation, assessing the tool used for transferring data and adding supplementary measures to that tool. Among the latter is a list of technical, organizational, and contractual measures to be implemented to ensure the effectiveness of the tool.

Julie Brill, Corporate Vice President for Global Privacy and Regulatory Affairs and Chief Privacy Officer at Microsoft, issued the statement in which she declares MS to be the first company responding to the EDPB’s guidance. These safeguards include an obligation for MS to challenge all government requests for public sector or enterprise customer data, where it has a lawful basis for doing so; to try and redirect data requests; and to notify the customer promptly if legally allowed, about any data request by an authority, concerning that customer. This was one of the main ETDB recommendations and also included in a draft for new Standard Contractual Clauses published by the European Commission on November 12th. MS announces to monetary compensate customers, whose personal data has to be disclosed in response to government requests.  These changes are additions to the SCC’s MS is using ever since Schrems II. Which include (as MS states) data encrypted to a high standard during transition and storage, transparency regarding government access requests to data (“U.S. National Security Orders Report” dating back to 2011; “Law Enforcement Requests Report“) .

Recently European authorities have been criticizing MS and especially its Microsoft 365 (“MS 365”) (formerly Office 365) tools for not being GDPR compliant. In July 2019 the Ministry of Justice in the Netherlands issued a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA), warning authorities not to use Office 365 ProPlus, Windows 10 Enterprise, as well as Office Online and Mobile, since they do not comply with GDPR standards. The European Data Protection Supervisor issued a warning in July 2020 stating that the use of MS 365 by EU authorities and contracts between EU institutions and MS do not comply with the GDPR. Also, the German Data Security Congress (“GDSC”) issued a statement in October, in which it declared MS 365 as not being compliant with the GDPR. The GDSC is a board made up of the regional data security authorities of all 16 german states and the national data security authority. This declaration was reached by a narrow vote of 9 to 8. Some of the 8 regional authorities later even issued a press release explaining why they voted against the declaration. They criticized a missing involvement and hearing of MS during the process, the GDSC’s use of MS’ Online Service Terms and Data Processing Addendum dating back to January 2020 and the declaration for being too undifferentiated.

Some of the German data protection authorities opposing the GDSC’s statement were quick in welcoming the new developments in a joint press release. Although, they stress that the main issues in data transfer from the EU to the U.S. still were not solved. Especially the CJEU main reserves regarding the mass monitoring of data streams by U.S. intelligence agencies (such as the NSA) are hard to prevent and make up for. Still, they announced the GDSC would resume its talks with MS before the end of 2020.

This quick reaction to the EDPB recommendations should bring some ease into the discussion surrounding MS’ GDPR compliance. It will most likely help MS case, especially with the German authorities, and might even lead to a prompt resolution in a conflict regarding tools that are omnipresent at workplaces all over the globe.

Google Introduces Automatic Deletion for Web Tracking History

7. May 2019

Google has announced on its blog that it will introduce an auto delete feature for web tracking history.

So far, users have the option to manually delete data from Google products such as YouTube or Maps. After numerous requests, however, Google follows other technology giants and revised its privacy settings. “We work to keep your data private and secure, and we’ve heard your feedback that we need to provide simple ways for you to manage or delete it,” Google writes on it’s blog.

Users will be able to choose a period for which the data should remain stored, lasting a minimum of 3 months and a maximum of 18 months. At the end of the selected period, Google will automatically delete the data on a regular basis. This option will initially be introduced for Location History and Web & App Activity data and will be available over the next few weeks, according to Google.

Google’s announcement came the day after Microsoft unveiled a set of features designed to strengthen privacy controls for its Microsoft 365 users, aimed to simplify its privacy policies.

On the same day, during Facebook’s annual developer conference, F8, Mark Zuckerberg announced a privacy roadmap for the social network.

EDPS investigates into contractual agreements between EU institutions and Microsoft

10. April 2019

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) is the supervisory authority for all EU institutions and therefore responsible for their compliance with data protection laws. It is currently investigating the compliance of contractual agreements between EU institutions and Microsoft as the different institutions use Microsoft products and services to conduct their day-to-day businesses including the processing of huge amounts of personal data.

The EDPS refers to a Data Processing Impact Assessment carried out last November by the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security (we reported) in which they concluded that Microsoft collects and stores personal data of Office users on a large scale without informing them.

Wojciech Wiewiórowski, Assistant EDPS, said: “New data protection rules for the EU institutions and bodies came into force on 11 December 2018. Regulation 2018/1725 introduced significant changes to the rules governing outsourcing. Contractors now have direct responsibilities when it comes to ensuring compliance. However, when relying on third parties to provide services, the EU institutions remain accountable for any data processing carried out on their behalf. They also have a duty to ensure that any contractual arrangements respect the new rules and to identify and mitigate any risks. It is with this in mind that the contractual relationship between the EU institutions and Microsoft is now under EDPS scrutiny.”

The investigation should reveal which products and systems are used right now and whether the existing contractual agreements are compliant with current Data Protection Laws, especially the GDPR.

Category: EU · GDPR · General
Tags: ,

Microsoft violates the GDPR on a massive scale

20. November 2018

A Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) outsourced by the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security, concluded that Microsoft collects and stores personal data of Office users on a large scale without informing them. According to this report, Microsoft thus violates the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on a massive scale.

The DPIA was carried out to probe the use of Microsoft Office in the public sector. Most of the Dutch authorities use Microsoft Office 2016, Office 365 or an older version. The Dutch judiciary, police, various ministries and tax offices use Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint. The DPIA found that Microsoft not only collects and stores personal data but also send them to the US. In addition, users are not informed and it is not offered to switch off the collection or to see what data are collected. The Assessment outlined eight different risks and possible risk mitigating measures. One example is the “Lack of Transparency”. A possible measure recommended for Microsoft is the public documentation and the implementation of a data viewer tool because at the moment the content of the diagnostic data (i.e. “all observations stored in event logs about the behaviour of individual users of the services”) is not accessible.

Microsoft stated that -for the examined Office versions- between 23,000 and 25,000 event logs are sent to Microsoft servers and that 20 to 30 development teams analyse the data. The company agreed to change its practices by April 2019 and until then offers “zero exhaust” settings to shut down the data collection. A Microsoft spokesperson told The Register: “We are committed to our customers’ privacy, putting them in control of their data and ensuring that Office ProPlus and other Microsoft products and services comply with GDPR and other applicable laws.”

In addition to applying the new settings, the DPIA encourages users to deactivate Connected Services and Microsoft’s data sharing system, not use the web-based Office 365, SharePoint, or OneDrive, delete the directory of the system, and consider using alternative software.

UK government to meet tech giants after Westminster attack

28. March 2017

In consequence of the Westminster Bridge attack in London, Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced that she wants to meet several tech giants in order to make sure law enforcement is able to access encrypted data for terrorism investigation.

The topic came up as the attacker reportedly used the messaging application WhatsApp shortly before his attack began. As WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, neither law enforcement nor WhatsApp itself can read messages. The same applies to Apple’s iMessage. While Rudd did not want to make public which tech companies she will meet in detail, Google confirmed that it will be meeting the UK government.

“We need to make sure that organisations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other,“ Rudd said. Labour leader Jeremy Corbin, however, stated that law enforcement already had enough powers and that there needed to be a balance between the right to know and the right to privacy.

In the meantime, Microsoft confirmed that it had provided email information relating to the Westminster Bridge attack to the British authorities after it had received lawful orders.

Existing concerns on Windows data protection laws infractions

22. February 2017

There still exists a European data protection authorities´ concern on the data collection practices in Windows 10. Even though the letter to Microsoft has been sent by the Article 29 Working Party (or WP29), the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has expressed its serious worries.

Microsoft was therefore asked to explain in a very clear way the purposes and kinds of personal data, which are under processing, as this is still an issue, which remains unclear.

Last July even France`s CNIL has demanded Microsoft to “halt the excessive collection of data and the tracking of users’ browsing without their consent”, as it accused Microsoft of numerous data protection laws infractions, such as too wide personal data collection under the telemetry programme and tracking tool default activation (intended to the targeted advertising delivery) without consent or user knowledge.

As a response Microsoft has released to the market (in January) a new Windows 10 update – so called “Creators Update”. It includes a dashboard based on web, which allows users to choose the desired data-sharing level.

At the conference in Australia, which took place this Monday, Microsoft has also announced a second major Windows 10 release this year (with the Neon user-interface design elements project).

According to the WP29 though: “Even considering the proposed changes to Windows 10, the Working Party remains concerned about the level of protection of users’ personal data”.

“Microsoft should clearly explain what kinds of personal data are processed for what purposes. Without such information, consent cannot be informed, and therefore, not valid.”

Apart from Windows, the WP29 has also taken Facebook, WhatsApp and Yahoo under its magnifier, which are being suspected of data-protection laws violations.

Category: Article 29 WP · EU · Personal Data · UK
Tags:
Pages: 1 2 Next
1 2