Archive for Data Security

Businesses Delayed Security Breach Disclosure

An FoI request to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has revealed cause for concern over whether businesses on the run up to the implementation of GDPR were preventing, detecting and responding to security threats and breaches in a good and compliant way.

Delay In Identifying and Reporting

An FoI request to the ICO by threat detection and response firm Redscan found that, in the year leading up to the implementation of GDPR on 25th of May, many UK businesses appeared to be routinely delaying data breach disclosure to the ICO.

The data revealed in the request indicated that companies took an average of 60 days to identify that they’d been a victim of a data breach and an average 3 weeks after discovery to report a breach to the ICO.  The worst offending business (in the data revealed) took a massive 44 months to identify a breach, and some organisations took an average of 142 days to report their breaches to ICO.

Financial and Legal Quicker at Identifying & Reporting Breaches

The FoI data did, however, show that financial and legal sector organisations were better at identifying and reporting breaches.  For example, financial services firms took 37 days to identify a breach and legal firms took 25 days.  These figures compare favourably to the general business category where companies took 138 days to identify breaches.

Also, when it came to reporting the breaches, financial services companies took an average of 16 days and legal firms an average of 20 days.  These figures, again, compare favourably to ‘general business’ category organisations which took 27 days on average to report breaches to the ICO.

Full Impact Not Reported

The requested data also showed that 9 out of 10 businesses did not fully specify the nature and impact of the breach to the ICO.

Dates Not Reported

The same figures showed that 21% of businesses did not report the breach incident date, and 25% did not report the breach discovery date to the ICO. It may be fair to assume that these figures could indicate that businesses may have either lacked awareness about the breaches or perhaps made a conscious decision to withhold important information due to fear of the consequences.

Most Hacks Happen At Weekends

The FoI data also showed that hackers tend to prefer attacking at the weekends as this is most likely to be the time when many Monday to Friday businesses are not monitoring for threats and essentially have their guard down, and attackers have two days to break into systems.  For example, the requested data showed that more than three-quarters of incidents happen on a Saturday.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This data relates to behaviour before the introduction of GDPR, but with GDPR now in place, and with the legal risks (big fines) and reputational stakes now escalated, businesses need to make sure that they can be compliant going forward.

Attacks are getting more diverse in nature, are occurring across a wider front, and are becoming more sophisticated.  Businesses must, therefore, make sure that they have the appropriate skills, technology, controls and procedures in place to identify a breach in the first place

Also, businesses now need to make sure that they report identified breaches in enough detail, and within 72 hours of becoming aware of the breach, where feasible.  These things are now vitally important as reporting requirements are much stricter under GDPR.

The fact that most businesses are hit by hackers at weekends indicates that businesses need to ensure that they have 24/7, 7-day-a-week controls, defences and procedures in place to be able to protect their systems and the data they hold.

Serious Windows 7 Bug Reported

Google has warned those who are still using Windows 7 that they are at risk of hackers being able to take over their computer by exploiting the combination of a flaw in the Window 7 OS and Google’s Chrome Browser.

Google Alert

The threat to Windows 7 comes from combined flaws in its OS, and a flaw in Google Chrome.  It was Google that announced the discovery of the zero-day vulnerability CVE-2019-5786 in Chrome.

A zero-day vulnerability is one that gives Google, for example, zero days to find a fix because it is already being exploited.  In this case, Clement Lecigne, a security researcher at Google, discovered the vulnerability which resides the Chrome web browsing software and could impact upon all major operating systems, not just Windows 7, although Windows 7 is vulnerable because it’s a 10-year-old OS in its final year of official support from Microsoft.

Details of the exact nature of the flaw in Googles’ Chrome are not abundantly clear at this point, but it has been described as a use-after-free vulnerability in the FileReader component of the Chrome browser. The FileReader is a standard API that enables web applications to asynchronously read the contents of files stored on a computer.  This essentially means that the flaw in Google’s Chrome provides a way in for hackers who can use it to transfer attack code from Chrome into other applications to help them compromise a machine.

The Windows 7 Side

The flaw in Windows 7 is reported to be in the very core elements that are supposed to stop the data in one program interacting with anything outside that application.


The combination of these two flaws means that hackers could use Google’s Chrome Browser to take over a computer running Windows 7.

What Can You Do?

The advice from security commentators is (unsurprisingly) to upgrade to Windows 10.  The advice from Google is to make sure that Google Chrome is up to date. You can do this by clicking on the three stacked dots (top right) in Chrome, selecting ‘Help’ and ‘About Google Chrome’, which takes you to the settings page chrome://settings/help.  If it says that you’re running Version 72.0.3626.121 (Official Build) you have the updated version.  If not, you need to update Chrome to the latest version.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

According to Mr Lecigne, the Google security researcher, there is only evidence of active exploitation against Windows 7 32-bit systems, but it is alarming that a security flaw exists in the core elements of the OS. Since the real risk comes from the combination of a flaw in both Chrome and Windows 7, updating Chrome, which only takes a matter of minutes should provide protection (for the time being) from this risk, although it’s not possible to know what other zero-day bugs are waiting to be discovered.

This story shows the importance of keeping software up to date and patched and is likely to put more pressure on those businesses still using Windows 7 to make the switch to Windows 10.  The fact is though that Windows 7 is still a popular operating system with 37% market share and switching to Windows 10 has cost and time implications in terms of identifying any issues in individual environments and project planning.  The 14th Jan 2020 end of official support date for Windows 7 and the discovery of this kind of OS flaw being made public may now mean that businesses that have been holding out may simply feel that it’s time to bite the bullet and start the shift to Windows 10.

Nest Locking Customers Out Over Suspected Security Breach

Nest Labs, the US manufacturer of smart home products is reported to have been locking some customers out of their accounts over possible password breaches.


Nest Labs (founded by iPod inventor Tony Fadell and purchased by Google back in 2014) is a manufacturer of smart home gadgets, including thermostats, cameras, a video doorbell, a smoke and CO2 alarm, and the Nest Aware system where customers can monitor all activity at their home via an app.

What’s Happened?

Nest has recently been the subject of several hacks e.g. there have been reports of Nest cameras being hacked, such as the family in Northern California who reported their camera giving a message (from hackers) warning them of a fictional North Korean missile attack.  Also, more recently in the US, on Superbowl Sunday, a mother reported an unknown male hacker talking to her 5-year-old son through the Nest security camera in his bedroom.

Advice From Google

In the light of the increase in hacks, in the early part of February, Google emailed out a warning to the owners, urging them to secure their login credentials with measures such as two-factor identification and stronger passwords. In the email, Google said that there hadn’t been a breach, but that it was simply reminding users that breaches are possible and that there are measures they can take to help protect themselves and get the most out of Nest products.

Google says that the recent reports of hacks are based on customers continuing to use compromised passwords i.e. passwords that have been exposed through breaches on other websites, and probably shared and sold-on among the hacking fraternity.

Locked Out

The lock-outs of accounts that some customers are now experiencing appear to be strong reminders from what is essentially a security app to those who are known to still be using compromised passwords and who haven’t yet set-up 2-factor authentication, that now is the time to address these issues.

One added bit of motivation to do so could be the relatively high monthly fees for Nest products and services that customers will be paying for nothing if they don’t act now.

Other Troubles

Nest has also found itself in hot water recently after it was discovered that a “secret” microphone is incorporated in Google’s Nest Guard product that has not been listed in the product’s  tech spec.  This has led to a serious backlash, and calls from a Senator for action to be taken to help protect users from the privacy and security threat that some smart products can pose.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Even though these are security related products, their basic protection has been through the use of passwords.  Due to the number of hacks of other sites, and the fact that people often use the same password for multiple sites, and due to the bizarre and terrifying nature of some of the hacks of Nest speakers, it is not a surprise that the company is taking strong action to try and force users to set up a secure, new password, and the extra security layer of 2FA.

This story is a reminder that it is not a good idea to use the same passwords on multiple websites, as hackers now have software to enable them to quickly try the same password details in multiple websites (credential stuffing).

Although 2FA does add another relatively solid layer of security to online accounts, Google (Nest) has said that it is also considering new security measure to prevent this kind of hacking from happening with Nest’s products again.

New York’s Governor Orders Investigation Into Facebook Over App Concerns

The Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has ordered an investigation into reports that Facebook Inc may be using apps on users’ smartphones to collect personal information about them.

Alerted By Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal prompted the Governor to order New York’s Department of State and Department of Financial Services (DFS) to investigate Facebook when the paper reported that Facebook may have more access than it should to data from certain apps, sometimes even when a person isn’t even signed in to Facebook.

Health Data

It has been reported that the kind of data that some apps allegedly share with Facebook includes health-related information such as weight, blood pressure and ovulation status.

The alleged sharing of this kind of sensitive and personal data, whether or not a person is logged-in Facebook, prompted Governor Cuomo to call such practice an “outrageous abuse of privacy.”


Facebook’s defence against these allegations, which appears to have prompted a short-lived but noticeable fall in Facebook’s share value, was to point out that WSJ’s report focused on how other apps use people’s data to create ads.

Facebook added that it requires other app developers to be clear with their users about the information they are sharing with Facebook and that it prohibits app developers from sending sensitive data to Facebook.

The social media giant also stressed that it tries to detect and remove any data that should not be shared with it.

Lawsuits Pending

This appears to be just one of several legal fronts where Facebook will need to defend itself.  For example, Facebook is still facing a U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigation into the alleged inappropriate sharing of information belonging to 87 million Facebook users with now-defunct political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

Apple Also Accused By Governor Over FaceTime Bug

New York’s Governor Cuomo and New York Attorney General Letitia James have also announced an investigation into Apple Inc’s alleged failure to warn customers about a bug in its FaceTime app that could inadvertently allow eavesdropping as iPhones users were able to listen to conversations of others who have not yet accepted a video call.

DFS Involvement

The Department of Financial Services (DFS), which is one of the two agencies that have been ordered to investigate this latest Facebook app sharing matter has only recently begun to get more involved in digital matters, particularly by producing the country’s first cybersecurity rules governing state-regulated financial institutions such as banks, insurers and credit monitors.

Some commentators have expressed concern, however, about the DFS saying last month that DFS life insurers could use social media posts in underwriting their policies, on the condition that they did not discriminate based on race, colour, national origin, sexual orientation or other protected classes.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

You could be forgiven for thinking that after the scandal over Facebook’s unauthorised sharing of the personal details of 87 million users with Cambridge Analytica, that Facebook may have learned its lesson about the sharing of personal data and may have tried harder to uncover and plug any loopholes that could allow this to happen. The tech giant still has several lawsuits and regulatory inquiries over privacy issues pending, and this latest revelation about the sharing very personal health information certainly won’t help its cause. Clearly, as the involvement of the FDS shows, there needs to be more oversight of (and investigation into) apps that share their data with Facebook, and possibly the need for more legislation and regulation of the smart app / smart tech ecosystem.

There are ways to stop Facebook from sharing your data with other apps via your phone settings and by disabling Facebook’s data sharing platform.  You can find instructions here:

Discovery of Microphone in Google’s Nest Guard Prompts Backlash

The discovery of a microphone in Google’s Nest Guard product that was not listed in tech spec has been put down to an erroneous omission by Google, but it has also caused a backlash that escalated to the US Congress.

What Happened?

One of Google’s products is the Nest Secure product which is a home security system that operates using a phone app, alarm, keypad, and motion sensor with Google Assistant built in (which is the main hub), Nest Detect Sensors for doors and windows, and a tag which the homeowner taps on the main hub when they enter the house to disarm the system. Earlier this month, the addition of Google’s digital assistant to the product led to the surprise discovery that the main hub unit has always had a microphone installed in it, but the microphone was not mentioned on the technical specifications for the product.

The discovery of what appeared to be a “secret” microphone has, therefore, prompted anger and discussion among privacy and security advocates and commentators, concern from consumers, bad publicity for Google, and calls for action by a Senator, a Congressman, and many others.

Google Says 

Google’s response to the discovery was simply to apologise for what was an “error” and oversight on its part for not listing the microphone in the tech spec for the system, and to stress that the microphone was not intended to be ‘secret’ and had not been used until the addition of the Google Assistant.

It has also been reported that Google has said that one of the reasons for the microphone’s inclusion had originally been to allow future functionality, for example, to detect breaking glass in the home.


Google has faced anger and criticism from many different angles over the discovery of the microphone including:

  • Maryland Congressman John Delaney calling for privacy legislation to now be applied to a broad range of tech products.  Mr Delaney also proposed that electronic tech products should have labelling on them like that on food products, so consumers can be quickly and easily alerted to any privacy and security implications.
  • Virginia Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, calling for hearings with federal agencies and the U.S. Congress about the digital economy, and the smart home ecosystem.
  • The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to request via an enforcement action, that Google divests of its Nest hardware products, and that Google disgorges any data that it may wrongfully have obtained from Nest customers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Smart electronic products and devices are now in homes and businesses everywhere, but consumers and business owners should have the right to be clearly informed about the security and privacy implications of those products so that they can make an informed choice about whether to buy and operate them.

As some commentators have noted, the arguments that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than seek permission or that ‘it’s in the fine print’, shouldn’t be acceptable privacy policies from tech companies.  The idea of food packaging-style labelling on smart tech products to help inform about security and privacy implications may not be a bad one, and if the tech industry can’t regulate itself on this matter then more legislation to protect consumers and businesses seems likely.

This is a damaging story in terms of trust and reputation for Google, particularly in the US where the story has been given greater prominence and may cause consumers to think twice about the kinds of smart products that they let into their homes and businesses.

DNS infrastructure Under Attack

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has issued a warning that the DNS infrastructure is facing an “ongoing and significant risk” and has urged domain owners to deploy DNSSEC technology.


ICANN is one of the many organisations involved in the decentralised management of the Internet but is specifically responsible for coordinating the top-most level of the DNS in order to ensure that it can operate in a secure and stable way and maintain universal resolvability.


According to ICANN’s statement, public reports indicate that the DNS infrastructure is facing “multifaceted attacks utilizing different methodologies”.  Examples of such attacks include replacing the addresses of intended servers with addresses of machines controlled by attackers.  The prevalence of so-called “man in the middle” attacks, where a user is unknowingly re-directed to a potentially malicious site is of particular concern.

Cisco’s Talos Intelligence blog has highlighted how this type of attack has been carried out on a grand scale by some international players.  For example, the blog reports how Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been targeting .gov domains, as well as a private Lebanese airline company.  The attackers used two fake, malicious websites containing job postings via malicious Microsoft Office documents which had embedded macros. The malware, dubbed “DNSionage” supported HTTP and DNS communication with the attackers.

The Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency in the US has also been forced to order federal agencies to act against DNS tampering.


One of the main ways that ICANN and Internet companies like Cloudflare and Google are suggesting that DNS-focused attacks can be countered is through the deployment of DNSSEC technology by domain owners.   Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) has been described as a suite of Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) specifications.  DNSSEC was designed to protect Internet resolvers/clients from forged DNS data, and it complements other technologies e.g. Transport Layer Security (usually used in HTTPS) that protect the end user/domain communication.  In essence, it cryptographically signs data to make it much more difficult to forge.

Low Adoption Rate

One of the reasons why DNS-focused attacks are so prevalent may be that the adoption rate of DNSSEC is so low – around 20%.  In fact, according to Cloudflare, only 3% of the Fortune 1,000 are using DNSSEC.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It is good that ICANN has identified this threat as this will now facilitate greater discussion and action and may motivate more domain owners to look into and adopt DNSSEC, hopefully across all unsecured domain names.  Although full deployment of DNSSEC is not the ultimate answer, it may go a long way towards drastically reducing the current threat.

ICANN has produced a helpful checklist of recommended security precautions that members of the domain name industry e.g. registries, registrars, resellers, and others, can proactively take to protect their systems, their customers’ systems and any that could be reached via DNS.  You can find the checklist here:

Form-Jacking Attacks Hit High Profile Companies

Research by Security Company Symantec has revealed that high profile companies such as BA and Ticketmaster are among the many thousands of businesses whose websites are being targeted with “form-jacking” attacks every month.

What Is Form-Jacking?

Form-jacking involves inserting a small amount of malicious JavaScript code into the checkout web pages of e-commerce sites, thereby allowing attackers to monitor payment card information being entered and to then syphon that information off.

When a user hits the submit button on a checkout page that contains the malicious code, the user’s payment and personal details are sent to an attacker’s servers where the attacker can use this information to perform payment card fraud or sell these details on to other criminals on the dark web.

Pages that have been compromised in this way aren’t easy to spot, and to the to the naked eye, the checkout process looks normal.

How Big Is The Problem?

Symantec claims to have stopped more than 3.7 million form-jacking attacks in 2017, and between August and September 2018, the company says that it blocked 248,000 attempts at form-jacking.  The fact that 36% of these blocks took place from September 13th to September 20th was an indicator that form-jacking attempts were escalating towards the end of last year.

Symantec reports that 4,800 websites are being hit by form-jacking attacks every month.


High profile examples of victims of form-jacking given by Symantec include British Airways and Ticketmaster who were both targeted by the ‘Magecart’ hacking group.

The attack on British Airways saw the Magecart attackers set up a spoof web domain designed to look like those of the legitimate company, and even purchase paid SSL certificates from Comodo to make it look more legitimate. Magecart was present on British Airway’s website from August 21 to September 5, and the 22 lines of digital skimming JavaScript code that it took to operate the form-jacking attack affected 380,000 transactions.  In the BA attack, the vital customer data was skimmed and stolen in a fraction of a second between the time the customer put the mouse over the submit button and before the data had a chance to reach BA’s servers as the customer clicked on the button.

In the case of Ticketmaster attack, which took place in June, attackers first compromised a chatbot from tech firm Inbenta that was used for customer support on Ticketmaster websites.  This chatbot then provided the way in for the Magecart attackers which enabled them to alter the JavaScript code on Ticketmaster’s websites so that payment card data from customers could be captured and sent to their servers.  It is thought that the form-jacking code remained undetected on Ticketmaster’s website from September 2017 to June 2018.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Cybercriminals have found that better back-up practices by businesses and home users have made attacks like ransomware less likely to pay, so may have moved into form-jacking. The fact that it only requires the insertion of a relatively small amount of JavaScript and that it can be very difficult to detect make it an attractive new way to get paid for many criminals.

Companies can use network-based and file-based protection against form-jacking, and ways to stop attackers getting in to inject the code include using firewalls to block all incoming connections from the internet to services that should not be publicly available, enforcing a (complex) password policy, turning off file sharing if not needed, turning off and removing unnecessary services, keeping patching up to date, and configuring email servers to block or remove emails that contains file attachments that are commonly used to spread threats e.g. .vbs, .bat, .exe, .pif and .scr files.

Also, companies should guard against software supply chain attacks by testing new updates, even seemingly legitimate ones, in small test/sandbox environments, and by monitoring the behaviour of all activity on a system to help identify any unwanted patterns.

Targets Of A Rise In Extortion Scams

A report by cyber-crime researchers is warning professional people and those in higher level management positions that extortion scams are on the rise with higher earners as the obvious targets.


The report, from researchers at risk protection firm Digital Shadows, tracked so-called ‘sextortion’ campaigns from July 2018 to February 2019, during which time they discovered that more than 89,000 unique recipients were the targets of 792,000 extortion attempts!


Extortion scams are aimed higher earners become popular because:

– These scams are cheap and easy to operate. For example, aspiring extortionists can purchase sensitive corporate documents and extortion manuals online from other criminals for less than £10.

– The rewards are high.  Professionals, business owners and high net worth individuals who hold positions of power within companies have the ability and often the motivation to pay.  For example, as part of the research, analysis of bitcoin wallets associated with extortion scams showed that “sextortionists” are making an average of £414 per victim.


As the name suggests, sextortion involves blackmail and bribery through coercion based upon the criminal threatening to release images and/or other information about their victim.

This type of crime is now one of the main methods of extortion. Individuals who are thought likely to be vulnerable to this type of crime are often targeted with manufactured attacks.  For example, one type of attack which features in extortion guides is carried out when a criminal begins an online relationship with a married person and then threatens to reveal details of the affair to their partner unless a ransom is paid. Less sophisticated ‘sextortion’ attacks involve using a password to ‘prove’ to the victim that they have been compromised, claiming to have video footage of the victim watching adult content online, and then telling the victim to pay a ransom to a specified bitcoin address.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Most businesses will continue to face some of the more common threats such as phishing attempts, malware, social engineering, hacking, credential compromise and DDoS attacks.  Cybercriminals are, however, becoming even more daring, and the amount of resources available to them on criminal forums now makes extortion-style attacks more likely.  For example, a massive leak of 2.6 billion rows of data from 12,000 files dubbed Collection #1 onto hacking forums was revealed in a blog post in January by security researcher Troy Hunt, who is most well-known for managing the ‘Have I Been Pwned’ service. Mr Hunt said that the leaked personal data is a set of email addresses and passwords totalling 2,692,818,238 rows and is made up of many different data breaches from thousands of different sources.

Some ways that businesses may be able to protect themselves from extortion attacks include:

  • Checking the HaveIBeenPwned website to find out if your accounts have been previously breached.
  • Regularly backing up data and storing sensitive files in detached storage away from your main network, and making disaster recovery plans, business continuity plans, and periodically testing your backup and recovery processes.
  • Not answering extortion emails.
  • Making sure that your email system is secure and applying best practices for user permissions.
  • Educating / training staff on how to deal with extortion emails.
  • Where possible, minimising your personal and professional online exposure.
  • Keeping software patches up to date.
  • Making your remote workers use a (good, paid-for) VPN.

Millions of Taxpayers’ Voiceprints Added to Controversial HMRC Biometric Database

The fact that the voiceprints of more than 2 million people have been added to HMRC’s Voice ID scheme since June 2018, to add to the 5 million plus other voiceprints already collected, has led to complaints and challenges to the lawfulness of the system by privacy campaigners.

What HMRC Biometric Database System?

Back in January 2017, HMRC introduced a system whereby customers calling the tax credits and Self-Assessment helpline could enrol for voice identification (Voice ID) as a means of speeding up the security steps. The system uses 100 different characteristics to recognise the voice of an individual and can create a voiceprint that is unique to that individual.

When customers call HMRC for the first time, they are asked to repeat a vocal passphrase up to five times before speaking to a human adviser.  The recorded passphrase is stored in an HMRC database and can be used as a means of verification/authentication in future calls.

Got Voices By The Back Door Said Big Brother Watch

It has been reported that in the 18 months following the introduction of the system, HMRC acquired 5.1 million people’s voiceprints this way.

Back in June 2018, privacy campaigning group ‘Big Brother Watch’ reported that its own investigation had revealed that HMRC had (allegedly) taken 5.1 million taxpayers’ biometric voiceprints without their consent.

Big Brother Watch alleged that the automated system offered callers no choice but to do as instructed and create a biometric voice ID for a Government database.  The only way to avoid creating the voice ID on calling, as identified by Big Brother Watch, was to say “no” three times to the automated questions, whereupon the system still resolved to offer a voice ID next time.

Big Brother Watch were concerned that GDPR prohibits the processing of biometric data for the purpose of uniquely identifying a person, unless the there is a lawful basis under Article 6, and that because voiceprints are sensitive data but are not strictly necessary for dealing with tax issues, HMRC should request the explicit consent of each taxpayer to enrol them in the scheme (Article 9 of GDPR).

This led to Big Brother Watch registering a formal complaint with the ICO, the result of which is still to be announced.


Big Brother Watch’s complaint may have been the prompt for changes to the Voice ID system. In September 2018, HMRC permanent secretary John Thompson said that HMRC felt it had been acting lawfully, by relying on the implicit consent of users.  Mr Thompson acknowledged, however, that the original messages that were played to callers had not explicitly stated it was possible, or how, to opt out of the voice ID system, and that, in the light of this, the message had been updated (in July 2018) to make this clear.

Mass Deletions?

On the point of whether HMRC would consider deleting the 6 million voiceprint profiles of people who registered before the wording was changed to include ty opt-out option, Mr Thompson has said that HMRC will wait for the completion of the ICO’s investigation.


Big Brother Watch has highlighted a backlash against the Voice ID system as indicated by the 162,185 people who have called HMRC to have their Voice IDs deleted.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Even though many businesses and organisations are switching/planning to switch to using biometric identification/verification systems in place of less secure password-based systems, it is still important to remember that these are subject to GDPR. For example, images and unique Voiceprint IDs are personal data that require explicit consent to be given, and that people have the right to opt out as well as to opt-in.

It remains to be seen whether the outcome of the ICO investigation will require mass deletions of Voice ID profiles.  Big Brother Watch states on its website that if people are not happy about the HMRC system they can complain to the HMRC directly (via the government website) or file a complaint about the HMRC system to the ICO via the ICO website (the ICO is already investigating HMRC about the matter).  HMRC has said that all the voice data is stored securely and that customers can now opt out of Voice ID or delete their records any time they want.

Naming and Shaming of Companies With Poor Cyber Security

A report from the Cyber Security Research Group and the Policy Institute at King’s College London, has suggested that the government could help combat high cyber-crime levels by naming (and shaming) companies with poor cyber-security.


The Cyber Security Research Group at King’s College London brings together experts with backgrounds in international relations, security studies, strategic studies, intelligence, public policy, informatics and computer science in order to promote better research into cyber-security.  The other research partner in this case, the Policy Institute at King’s College London is an independent research institute focusing on using evidence and expertise to tackle societal challenges.

Cyber-crime Levels

The report highlights the fact that government’s 2018 data breach survey showed that 4 in 10 businesses experienced a cyber-security breach or attack in 2017-18 should be grounds to enable the public to see what steps are being taken by companies (or not) to keep users safe online and to protect their data.

Championing The ACD Programme

The report also champions the government’s Active Cyber Defence (ACD) programme, which was by developed the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) for the public sector, as something that could bring benefits if rolled-out to the private sector too, and/or if at least the tools and techniques of ACD could be extended beyond the public sector.

The report points to the relative success that ACD has had in bringing about a fall in scam emails from fake government addresses, and in shutting down thousands of “phishing” sites that pose as government agencies in order to steal users’ personal information.  Symantec figures, for example, show that phishing rates have increased across most industries and organisation sizes, and in this latest report, Tim Stevens, convenor of the Cyber Security Research Group at King’s College London notes that, according to his research findings, ACD could be rolled out beyond the public sector legally, cheaply and efficiently, with few obstacles, and could help to tackle phishing. The report, therefore, urges non-public sector organisations to engage more actively with the NCSC in order to deploy ACD as a tool to better tackle cyber-crime in the UK.

According to the National Cyber Security Centre (part of GCHQ), the ACD defence programme can be used to tackle cyber attacks in a relatively automated and scalable way. Last February, when the results of the NCSC’s Active Cyber Defence programme figures were published, they showed that UK share of visible global phishing attacks dropped from 5.3% (June 2016) to 3.1% (Nov 2017), and that 121,479 phishing sites hosted in the UK had been removed, and 18,067 sites worldwide that were spoofing UK government sites had been removed as a result of the ACD programme.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Reputations are valuable and vitally important to businesses, as should be cyber-security defences, and making sure that strong data protection measures are in place is critical. With this in mind, the idea that there could be a public naming and shaming of companies with poor cyber-security could be one way to incentivise action to be taken to bring about improvements and contribute to the tackling of cyber-crime across the private as well as the public sector.

The NCSC, for example, has been working with companies for some time anyway with the ACD programme to help them protect their customers.  For example, the NCSC launched a collaborative online platform where BT has been able to share its threat intelligence data with other UK ISPs, and the NCSC has offered support to BT to help strengthen its security and block malicious malware infections.

As acknowledged, however, in the Cyber Security Research Group and the Policy Institute at King’s College London report, ACD is not a finished product but a work in progress, and it is not a single entity, amenable to simple, one-off deployment. Also, a government programme that is extended to the private sector could face suspicion as being perhaps a way of the government scanning and collecting data about private organisations.  For this reason, the CSRG and King’s College London Report recommends perhaps putting a buffer between the government’s intelligence community and third parties in the form of regulatory authorities in each sector e.g. the Charity Commission in the third sector.

In reality, effective cyber-security comes from a large number of factors working together, including education and training as well as deploying relevant technologies, but the figures from the success of the ACD programme so far, show that it, or tools based upon it, could have real value as part of number of measures that could help reduce cyber-crime for private as well as public sector organisations.