Archive for GDPR

Featured Article – Maintaining Security on Employee Exit

When employees leave (or are asked to leave) or retire from businesses and organisations, those entities still have a legal responsibility to ensure that security levels are maintained with regards to data security.

Laws For Data

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 1998 are the main legislative frameworks covering how a businesses or organisation in the UK should manage the protection and handling of data. Within these, the data controller (i.e. you and your company/organisation) hold the responsibility for data matters.

Protecting that data is vitally important both to protect those who the company holds data about, and to protect the company itself from legal penalties, damage to reputation and more.  As well as personal data, your business needs to ensure that other sensitive data such as financial records, intellectual property and details about company security controls are all protected.

Threats

In addition to legal responsibilities for data protection, businesses must also address other potential threats as part of due diligence and hopefully, of a built-in company procedure when an employee leaves for whatever reason. For example:

– Damage and Disruption – In addition to the risk of data theft, attacks on a company’s systems and network, which may have been facilitated by not having security measures or procedures in place for employees leaving/retiring, can cause costly and disruptive damage and disruption.

– Insider Threat – One of the dangers of not managing the departure of an employee properly is that your business could then have an ‘insider threat’ i.e. a former employee, contractor or partner with access rights and logins that still work.

Security and Employee Exit

Clearly, there are many areas to be covered to manage employee exit from a security perspective.  Here are some pointers for managing the security aspects of an employee’s departure:

– Email is a window into company communications and operations and a place where sensitive data is exchanged and stored. It is also a common ‘way in’ for cyber-criminals.  With this in mind, managing the email aspects of security when an employee leaves/retires is vitally important.  Measures that can be taken include revoking access to company email, setting up auto-forwarding and out-of-office replies, while making sure that you mention who the new contact is. Also, it’s important to revoke access to/remove login credentials for other email programs used by the company to communicate with customers and other lists of stakeholders e.g. mass mailing programs with stored lists, such as Mailchimp.

– Company Systems and Networks. Employees have login details and rights/permissions for company computer systems and networks.  These should be revoked for the employee when they leave.

– CRMs provide access to all manner of data about the company, its customers, its other stakeholders, sales, communications and more. Login access should be revoked when an employee leaves.

– Collaborative Working Apps/Platforms and shared, cloud-based, remote working platforms e.g. Teams or Slack also contain direct access to company data. Make sure that a departing employee can no longer have access to these groups.

– If the departing employee has a personal voicemail message on the company phone, this will need to be changed.

– A leaving employee will need to return all company devices, and this implies that a company should have procedures in place to keep a record of which company devices have been allocated to each employee.

– Retrieval of any backup/storage media e.g. USBs may also help to prevent some security threats.

– Although it is best to store all online documents in a shared company folder that you have control over e.g. in OneDrive, it is possible that an employee has stored items in separate folders on their computer. Making sure that these are transferred to you or deleted when the employee leaves can help to maintain levels of security.

– Having a policy in place for the regular changing of passwords can work well anyway as a fail-safe but also, changing any passwords shared with multiple members of staff is an important measure to take when an employee leaves.

– If the departing employee was authorised to use company credit/debit cards, changing the PINs for those cards is another step that needs to be taken to maintain security with the company/organisation’s finances.

– Letting the company team/person responsible for IT security know that a person has left, particularly if the person left ‘under a cloud’, is another way that you can help to close security loopholes.

– Making sure that all company-related keys, pass cards, ID cards, parking passes, and any other similar items are retrieved is something that should be done before the ex-employee leaves the premises for the last time.

– If the employee has been issued with physical documents (e.g. a handbook) that contains information and data that could threaten company security, these need to be retrieved when the employee leaves.

– If the departing employee’s email address and extension feature on the website and/or is that employee is featured as being in the role that they are departing from, this needs to be removed from the website.  Also, check that company social media doesn’t indicate that the departed employee is still in their role e.g. on LinkedIn and Facebook.  You may also wish to make sure that the ex-employee doesn’t feature in the business online estate e.g. at the top of the website home page or other prominent pages.

Responsibility of the Employee

It should not be forgotten that employees who leave or retire from their jobs also have a legal responsibility as regards not taking company data with them.  A case in point, from 2019, led to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to warn those retiring or taking a new job that under the Data Protection Act 2018, employees can face regulatory action if they are found to have retained information collected as part of their previous employment.  The case which led to the warning from the ICO related to two (former) police officers who were investigated under previous Data Protection Act 1998 legislation after it was alleged that they had retained personal data in the form of notebooks that they had used while serving.

The warning in the ICO’s statement was that the Data Protection Act 1998 has since been strengthened through the Data Protection Act 2018, to include a new element of “knowingly or recklessly retaining personal data” without the consent of the data controller (see section 170 of the DPA 2018).

The only exceptions to this new part of the new Act are when it is necessary for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime, is required or authorised by an enactment, by a rule of law or by the order of a court or tribunal, or whether it is justified as being in the public interest.

ICO Warning – Retiring or Taking a New Job

The ICO has also warned that anyone who deals with the personal details of others in the course of their work, private or public sector, should take note of this update to the law, especially when employees are retiring or taking on a new job because those leaving or retiring can now be held responsible if the breach of personal data from their previous employer can be traced to their individual actions.

Prosecution Example

Examples of where the ICO has prosecuted for this type of breach of the law include a charity worker who, without the knowledge of the data controller (Rochdale Connections Trust), sent emails from his work email account (in February 2017) containing sensitive personal information of 183 people.  Also, a former Council schools admission department apprentice was found guilty of screen-shotting a spreadsheet that contained information about children and eligibility for free school meals and then sending it to a parent via Snapchat.

Moving Forwards

Maintaining the company/organisation’s security (physical, data and financial), are vital to its survival.  Making sure that procedures are in place to cover security in the event of ‘employee exit’ could save the company from preventable threats in the future.

Featured Article – Maintaining Security During The COVID-19 Health Crisis

The current global health crisis may bring many different IT security challenges to businesses and organisations and this article highlights some of the ways that you can prepare to keep IT security covered as best you can at this difficult time.

Larger and Smaller Businesses – Some Different Challenges

Larger organisations may be at an advantage as they may already have policies, procedures, equipment and security arrangements in place for remote working, although they may find themselves more stretched as many more staff work from home than usual.

Smaller businesses and organisations, however, may be less well used to and equipped for suddenly having to send staff home to work. This means that they may have a lot more work to do now in order to prepare, and their IT personnel will find themselves needing to prioritise and be prepared to provide more on-demand support over the coming weeks.

Guide

Even though larger and smaller companies may have different challenges on a different scale, here is brief guide incorporating a list of suggestions that could help many businesses and organisations to stay secure while employees, contractors and other stakeholders are working remotely:

– Alert all staff to the possibility of email-borne threats and other social engineering attacks.  For example, over the last few weeks, cybercriminals have been sending COVID-19 related phishing emails e.g. bogus workplace policy emails, emails purporting to be from a doctor offering details of a vaccine/cure, emails with a promise of a tax refund and more.  The message to employees should be to not open unfamiliar emails and certainly don’t click on any attachments or links to external pages from any suspect emails.

– Make sure that any software and software-based protection used by employees working from home is secure and up to date.  For example, this could include making sure their devices have up to date operating systems and browsers, firewall software and anti-virus software is installed and up to date, and make sure that employees install any new updates as soon as possible.

– Ensure that any devices used by employees are managed, secure (have downloaded trusted security apps), have appropriate protection e.g. data loss protection, updated anti-malware, and a capacity to be centrally monitored if possible. Ensure that all devices, including employee mobiles (which can carry confidential information), are password-protected, and can encrypt data to prevent theft.

– Monitor the supply chain arrangements where possible.  If a supplier is geographically remote, for example, and if the Covid-19 crisis has left a supplier short of qualified IT and/or security staff, or if contract staff/cover staff, or unfamiliar staff members have been brought in to replace staff members e.g. particularly in accounts, this could present a security risk.  Taking the time to conduct at least basic checks on who you dealing with could prevent social engineering, phishing and other security threats, and exercising caution and offering your own known secure channel suggestions where suppliers may be short of  IT-security staff could help to maintain your company’s security posture.

– Although employees are likely to stay at home in the current situation, you will still need to make sure that they are made aware of your policy about accessing information on public or unsecured networks e.g. using a VPN on mobile devices to encrypt data.

– Make sure you have a 24-hour reporting procedure for any stolen or lost equipment/devices.

– Pay attention to user identity management. For example, have a user account for each employee, and give appropriate access to each employee.  This should help to prevent unauthorised access by other persons.  Also, control which programs and data each employee has access to, and which level of user rights they have on certain platforms.

– Make employees aware that they must use only strong, unique passwords to sign-in to your network, and that these details should be changed regularly e.g. every 3 months.  Also, make sure that multi-factor authentication is used by employees.

– Stay on top of managing the workforce and general daily operations.  For example, make sure that key IT staff are available at all times, communication channels and procedures are clear and functioning, handover procedures are covered, any sickness (which looks likely) can have cover planned, and that productivity targets can be met despite remote working.

– Remind employees that they still need to comply with GDPR while working remotely and ensure that help and advice are available for this where needed.

– Use this experience to keep the company’s disaster recovery and business continuity plans up to date.

– Schedule regular, virtual/online meetings with staff and ensure that all employees have the contact details of other relevant employees.

– If you’re not already using a collaborative working platform e.g. Teams or Slack, consider the possibility of introducing this kind of working to help deal with future, similar threats.

Looking Forward

At this point, the country, businesses, and many individuals are thinking more about survival strategies, but taking time to ensure that IT security is maintained is important in making companies less vulnerable at a time when operations don’t follow normal patterns and when many cybercriminals are looking to capitalise on any weaknesses caused by the COVID-19 health emergency.

Cybercriminals Take Advantage of Covid-19 Outbreak With Phishing Emails

Some cybercriminals have already taken advantage of the fear surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak by sending out phishing emails that promise cures, seek donations, or heighten panic in order to extract personal data and money.

Phishing For Fear

Cybercriminals rely on exploiting human error that’s often driven by emotional responses.  The coronavirus outbreak has, therefore, provided scammers with a near-perfect opportunity to exploit the heightened the level of fear and to offer things that will take that fear and panic away as a motivation for a person to click on a link.  Clicking on a link in a phishing email, however, means having malicious software loaded onto your device that can allow cybercriminals to take control of your computer, log keystrokes, gain access to your personal information and financial data (for theft and identity theft), or simply direct you to a payment page.

Examples

Examples of the kinds of corona-virus related phishing emails which have been spotted over the last couple of weeks, and could be coming to an inbox near you, include:

– As reported by Proofpoint, an email purporting to be from a doctor offering details of a vaccine cure that’s been kept secret by the Chinese and UK governments.  Clicking on the link promises access to the vaccine cure details.

– Workplace policy emails that target employees in a specific company/organisation and encourage them to click on a link that will take them to their company’s Disease Management Policy.  Clicking on the link will, in fact, download malicious software that can provide a way into the company network.

– As reported by Mimecast, using the promise of a tax refund for coronavirus, directing the target to click on a link to input all their financial and tax information and with the lure of gaining access to (bogus) funds.

– Asking for donations for a fake campaign to fund the fast development of a Covid-19 vaccine.  In this scam, the victim is directed to a bitcoin payment page.

– As reported by Proofpoint, an email purporting to be from the World Health Organization (WHO) that offers a fake document with information about preventing the spread of coronavirus, where clicking on the link actually leads to the downloading of keylogging software (criminals can track your keystrokes to uncover passwords).

– Emails that exploit feelings of panic, such as an email that claims that Covid-19 has become airborne and asks the target to click on a link to a fake Microsoft login page.

Spotting Phishing Emails

Many phishing emails have giveaways that you can spot if you know what you’re looking for.  Examples of ways in which you can identify a phishing email include:

– Online requests for personal and financial information e.g. from government agencies are very unlikely to be sent by email from legitimate sources.

– Beware of generic greetings. Scammers are less likely to use your name to personalise the email greeting and title.

– Mistakes in spelling and grammar can be signs of scam emails.

– Check the email address by hovering your mouse (without clicking!) over the link in the email. This can quickly reveal if the email is genuine.

– Beware of heavy emotional appeals that urge you to act immediately.  These are signs of scam emails that hope to bypass your reasoning and tap into an emotional response.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Scammers often use phishing emails when there is/has been a recent crisis, when there’s been fraud/cybercrime that’s affected lots of people, or on other such events to take advantage of those who are looking for help and answers.  Scammers know that where emotions are strong and where they can tap into that by offering relief from negative feelings and by saying what people want to hear, they are more likely to achieve their aims.

In the case of coronavirus, although companies and organisations are issuing statements related to it, the best advice is to simply check the information that is given out through trusted, official sites such as the NHS https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/, the World Health Organisation https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus, and via trusted TV and radio stations.

Crisis or not, always exercise caution when you receive emails from unknown or unusual sources and remember that government agencies and financial institutions don’t send out emails asking for personal and financial information.

Companies also need to alert employees, many of whom may soon be working from home and may have a reduced ability to quickly ask the boss or manager about certain emails, to the threat of phishing emails with a Covid-19 theme and to the threat of social engineering attacks that could take advantage of a physically divided and reduced workforce.

Growth in Threats To Apple Compared To Windows Machines

In a trend that appears contrary to popular perceptions, the latest Malwarebytes (annual) State of malware report has revealed that the growth in attacks on Apple endpoints is outpacing the threats targeting Windows machines.

11 Threats Per Mac Endpoint

The report shows Mac threats were up (2019) four-fold year on year with 11 threats per Mac endpoint on average for Apple compared with only 5.8 threats per Windows endpoint.  An ‘endpoint’ refers to an Internet-capable computer hardware device on a TCP/IP network e.g. desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, printers etc.

Why?

It is likely that the growth in the average number of threats to Apple machines isn’t just down to the fact that there are now more Apple users, but also because Apple may not be taking enough measures that are tough enough to tackle adware and pups (potentially unwanted programmes) compared to efforts made to tackle more traditional malware.

Kaspersky Figures

Figures from Kaspersky this month also show increasing dangers for Mac users as it reports that two years on from its detection, Shlayer Trojan malware attacks one in ten macOS users, and it accounts for almost 30% of all detections for the macOS.

Criminals More Creative and Persistent

As well as the increasing danger for Mac users, in the report, Malwarebytes CEO Marcin Kleczynski highlights how adware, pre-installed malware and multi-vector attacks all show how cybercriminals appear to be heading in a direction where they are “more creative and increasingly persistent with their campaigns”.

Even though threats to Apple endpoints are growing at a faster rate, it is still Windows and Android devices that face the most threats from annoying and hard to uninstall adware and malware (including ransomware).

Business-Focused

The report highlighted the 13 per cent rise in global business threats last year, and how Trojan-turned-botnets Emotet and TrickBot have been targeting businesses and organisations with ransomware new families, like Ryuk, Sodinokibi and Phobos. Also, businesses are facing new risks from hack tools and registry key disablers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As pointed out in the report, those in the online security industry are having to work hard to protect users and businesses from programs that violate user privacy, infect devices, or turn their own infrastructure against them. Businesses and organisations, whether they use Apple or Microsoft Operating Systems need to be acutely aware of (and make sure they are protected against) the threats outlined in the report (malware, ransomware, adware, credit card skimmers and skimmer scripts), as well as phishing and the increasing use of social engineering in attacks.

Mac users may want to check the advice on Apple’s website about features (found in System Preferences) that help protect Macs and the personal information of users from malicious software/malware e.g. protection from malware embedded in harmless-looking apps.  See: https://support.apple.com/en-gb/guide/mac-help/mh40596/mac

Also, Apple advises that MacOS users should exercise caution when accessing scripts, web archives and Java archives, which all pose potential threats.

Featured Article – Proposed New UK Law To Cover IoT Security

The UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), has announced that it will soon be preparing new legislation to enforce new standards that will protect users of IoT devices from known hacking and spying risks.

IoT Household Gadgets

This commitment to legislate leads on from last year’s proposal by then Digital Minister Margot James and follows a seven-month consultation with GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre, and with stakeholders including manufacturers, retailers, and academics.

The proposed new legislation will improve digital protection for users of a growing number of smart household devices (devices with an Internet connection) that are broadly grouped together as the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT).  These gadgets, of which there is an estimated 14 billion+ worldwide (Gartner), include kitchen appliances and gadgets, connected TVs, smart speakers, home security cameras, baby monitors and more.

In business settings, IoT devices can include elevators, doors, or whole heating and fire safety systems in office buildings.

What Are The Risks?

The risks are that the Internet connection in IoT devices can, if adequate security measures are not in place, provide a way in for hackers to steal personal data, spy on users in their own homes, or remotely take control of devices in order to misuse them.

Default Passwords and Link To Major Utilities

The main security issue of many of these devices is that they have pre-set, default unchangeable passwords, and once these passwords have been discovered by cyber-criminals, the IoT devices are wide open to being tampered with and misused.

Also, IoT devices are deployed in many systems that link to and are supplied by major utilities e.g. smart meters in homes. This means that a large-scale attack on these IoT systems could affect the economy.

Examples

Real-life examples of the kind of IoT hacking that the new legislation will seek to prevent include:

– Hackers talking to a young girl in her bedroom via a ‘Ring’ home security camera (Mississippi, December 2019).  In the same month, a Florida family were subjected to vocal, racial abuse in their own home and subjected to a loud alarm blast after a hacker took over their ‘Ring’ security system without permission.

– In May 2018, A US woman reported that a private home conversation had been recorded by her Amazon’s voice assistant, and then sent it to a random phone contact who happened to be her husband’s employee.

– Back in 2017, researchers discovered that a sex toy with an in-built camera could also be hacked.

– In October 2016, the ‘Mirai’ attack used thousands of household IoT devices as a botnet to launch an online distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack (on the DNS service ‘Dyn’) with global consequences.

New Legislation

The proposed new legislation will be intended to put pressure on manufacturers to ensure that:

– All internet-enabled devices have a unique password and not a default one.

– There is a public point of contact for the reporting of any vulnerabilities in IoT products.

– The minimum length of time that a device will receive security updates is clearly stated.

Challenges

Even though legislation could make manufacturers try harder to make IoT devices more secure, technical experts and commentators have pointed out that there are many challenges to making internet-enabled/smart devices secure because:

  • Adding security to household internet-enabled ‘commodity’ items costs money. This would have to be passed on to the customer in higher prices, but this would mean that the price would not be competitive. Therefore, it may be that security is being sacrificed to keep costs down-sell now and worry about security later.
  • Even if there is a security problem in a device, the firmware (the device’s software) is not always easy to update. There are also costs involved in doing so which manufacturers of lower-end devices may not be willing to incur.
  • With devices which are typically infrequent and long-lasting purchases e.g. white goods, we tend to keep them until they stop working, and we are unlikely to replace them because they have a security vulnerability that is not fully understood. As such, these devices are likely to remain available to be used by cyber-criminals for a long time.

Looking Ahead

Introducing legislation that only requires manufacturers to make relatively simple changes to make sure that smart devices come with unique passwords and are adequately labelled with safety and contact information sounds as though it shouldn’t be too costly or difficult.  The pressure of having to display a label, by law, that indicates how safe the item is, could provide that extra motivation for manufacturers to make the changes and could be very helpful for security-conscious consumers.

The motivation for manufacturers to make the changes to the IoT devices will be even greater if faced with the prospect of retailers eventually being barred from selling products that don’t have a label, as was originally planned for the proposed legislation.

The hope from cyber-security experts and commentators is that the proposed new legislation won’t be watered-down before it becomes law.

Police Images of Serious Offenders Reportedly Shared With Private Landlord For Facial Recognition Trial

There have been calls for government intervention after it was alleged that South Yorkshire Police shared its images of serious offenders with a private landlord (Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield) as part of a live facial recognition trial.

The Facial Trial

The alleged details of the image-sharing for the trial were brought to the attention of the public by the BBC radio programme File on 4, and by privacy group Big Brother Watch.

It has been reported that the Meadowhall shopping centre’s facial recognition trial ran for four weeks between January and March 2018 and that no signs warning visitors that facial recognition was in use were displayed. The owner of Meadowhall shopping centre is reported as saying (last August) that the data from the facial recognition trial was “deleted immediately” after the trial ended. It has also been reported that the police have confirmed that they supported the trial.

Questions

The disclosure has prompted some commentators to question not only the ethical and legal perspective of not just holding public facial recognition trials without displaying signs but also of the police allegedly sharing photos of criminals (presumably from their own records) with a private landlord.

The UK Home Office’s Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, however, does appear to support the use of facial recognition or other biometric characteristic recognition systems if their use is “clearly justified and proportionate.”

Other Shopping Centres

Other facial recognition trials in shopping centres and public shopping areas have been met with a negative response too.  For example, the halting of a trial at the Trafford Centre shopping mall in Manchester in 2018, and with the Kings Cross facial recognition trial (between May 2016 and March 2018) which is still the subject of an ICO investigation.

Met Rolling Out Facial Recognition Anyway

Meanwhile, and despite a warning from Elizabeth Denham, the UK’s Information Commissioner, back in November, the Metropolitan Police has announced it will be going ahead with its plans to use live facial recognition cameras on an operational basis for the first time on London’s streets to find suspects wanted for serious or violent crime. Also, it has been reported that South Wales Police will be going ahead in the Spring with a trial of body-worn facial recognition cameras.

EU – No Ban

Even though many privacy campaigners were hoping that the EC would push for a ban on the use of facial recognition in public spaces for up to five years while new regulations for its use are put in place, Reuters has reported that The European Union has now scrapped any possibility of a ban on facial recognition technology in public spaces.

Facebook Pays

Meanwhile, Facebook has just announced that it will pay £421m to a group of Facebook users in Illinois, who argued that its facial recognition tool violated the state’s privacy laws.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Most people would accept that facial recognition could be a helpful tool in fighting crime, saving costs, and catching known criminals more quickly and that this would be of benefit to businesses and individuals. The challenge, however, is that despite ICO investigations and calls for caution, and despite problems that the technology is known to have e.g. being inaccurate and showing a bias (being better at identifying white and male faces), not to mention its impact on privacy, the police appear to be pushing ahead with its use anyway.  For privacy campaigners and others, this may give the impression that their real concerns (many of which are shared by the ICO) are being pushed aside in an apparent rush to get the technology rolled out. It appears to many that the use of the technology is happening before any of the major problems with it have been resolved and before there has been a proper debate or the introduction of an up-to-date statutory law and code of practice for the technology.

Avast Anti-Virus Is To Close Subsidiary Jumpshot After Browsing Data Selling Privacy Concerns

Avast, the Anti-virus company, has announced that it will not be providing any more data to, and will be commencing “a wind down” of its subsidiary Jumpshot Inc after a report that it was selling supposedly anonymised data to advertiser third parties that could be linked to individuals.

Jumpshot Inc.

Jumpshot Inc, founded in 2010, purchased by Avast in 2013, and operated as a data company since 2015 essentially organises and sells packaged data, that has been gathered from Avast, to enterprise clients and marketers as marketing intelligence.

Avast anti-virus incorporates a plugin that has, until now, enabled subsidiary Junpshot to scrape/gain access to that data which Jumpshot could sell to (mainly bigger) third party buyers so that they can learn what consumers are buying and where thereby helping with targeting their advertising.

Avast is reported to have access to data from 100 million devices, including PCs and phones.

Investigation Findings

The reason why Avast has, very quickly, decided to ‘wind down’ i.e. close Jumpshot is that the report of an investigation by Motherboard and PCMag revealed that Avast appeared to be harvesting users’ browser histories with the promise (to those who opted-in to data sharing) that the data would be ‘de-identified,’ ( to protect user privacy), whereas what actually appeared to be happening was that the data, which was being sold to third parties, could be linked back to people’s real identities, thereby potentially exposing every click and search they made.

When De-Identification Fails

As reported by PCMag, the inclusion of timestamp information and persistent device IDs with the collected URLs of user clicks, in this case, could, in fact, be analysed to expose someone’s identity.  This could, in theory, mean that the data taken from Avast and supplied via subsidiary Jumpshot to third parties may not be de-identified, and could, therefore, pose a privacy risk to those Avast users.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As an anti-virus company, security and privacy are essential elements of Avast’s products and customer trust is vital to its brand and its image. Some users may be surprised that their supposedly ‘de-identified’ data was being sold to third parties anyway, but with a now widely-reported privacy risk of this kind and the potential damage that it could do to Avast’s brand and reputation, it is perhaps no surprise that is has acted quickly in closing Jumphot and distancing itself from what was happening. As Avast says in its announcement about the impending closure of Jumpshot (with the loss of many jobs) “The bottom line is that any practices that jeopardize user trust are unacceptable to Avast”.  PCMag has reported that it has been informed by Avast that the company will no longer be using any data from the browser extensions for any other purpose than the core security engine.

£100m Fines Across Europe In The First 18 Months of GDPR

It has been reported that since the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in May 2018, £100m of data protection fines have been imposed on companies and organisations across Europe.

The Picture In The UK

The research, conducted by law firm DLA Piper, shows that the total fines imposed in the UK by the ICO stands at £274,000, but this figure is likely to be much higher following the finalising of penalties to be imposed on BA and Marriott.  For example, Marriott could be facing a £99 million fine for data breach between 2014 and 2018 that, reportedly involved up to 383 million guests, and BA (owned by IAG) could be facing a record-breaking £183 million for a breach of its data systems last year that could have affected 500,000 customers.

Also, the DLA Piper research shows that although the UK did not rankly highly in terms of fines, the UK ranked third in the number of breach notifications, with 22,181 reports since May 2018.  This equates to a relative ranking of 13th for data breach notifications per 100,000 people in the UK.

Increased Rate of Reporting

On the subject of breach notifications, the research shows a big increase in the rate of reporting, with 247 reports per day over the six months of GDPR between May 2018 and January 2019, which rose to 278 per day throughout last year. This rise in reporting is thought to be due to a much greater (and increasing) awareness about GDPR and the issue of data breaches.

France and Germany Hit Hardest With Fines

The fines imposed in the UK under GDPR are very small compared to Germany where fines totalled 51.1 million euros (top of the table for fines in Europe) and France where 24.6 million euros in fines were handed out.  In the case of France, much of the figure of fines collected relates to one penalty handed out to Google last January.

Already Strict Laws & Different Interpretations

It is thought that businesses in the UK having to meet the requirements of the already relatively strict Data Protection Act 1998 (the bones of which proved not to differ greatly from GDPR) is the reason why the UK finds itself (currently) further down the table in terms of fines and data breach notifications per 100,000 people.

Also, the EU’s Data Protection Directive wasn’t adopted until 1995, and GDPR appears to have been interpreted differently across Europe because it is principle-based, and therefore, apparently open to some level of interpretation.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

These figures show that a greater awareness of data breach issues, greater reporting of breaches, and increased activity and enforcement action by regulators across Europe are likely to contribute to more big fines being imposed over the coming year.  This means that businesses and organisations need to ensure that they stay on top of the issue of data security and GDPR compliance.  Small businesses and SMEs shouldn’t assume that work done to ensure basic compliance on the introduction of GDPR back in 2018 is enough or that the ICO would only be interested in big companies as regulators appear to be increasing the number of staff who are able to review reports and cases.  It should also be remembered, however, the ICO is most likely to want to advise, help and guide businesses to comply where possible.