Archive for Internet Security

Eight New Cyber Threats Every Second

The latest McAfee Labs threat report shows that in the last quarter of 2017, organisations faced 8 new cyber threats a second as there was an 18% increase in the number of reported security incidents across Europe.

478 New Cyber Threats Every Minute

The report makes worrying reading as businesses and organisations try to secure their online and data security systems in preparation for the introduction of GDPR.

The McAfee Labs report shows an 18% increase in the number of reported security incidents across Europe with a specific focus the on adoption of newer tools and schemes, such as fileless malware, cryptocurrency mining and steganography.

Cytptocurrency Mining

The rocketing value of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin led to a big increase in cryptocurrency mining / cryptojacking in the last quarter of 2017. For example, cryptojacking involves installing ‘mining script’ code such as Coin Hive into multiple web pages without the knowledge of the website owners. The scammer then gets multiple computers to join their networks so that the combined computing power will enable them to solve mathematical problems. Whichever scammer is first to solve these problems is then able to claim / generate cash in the form of crypto-currency.

Also, at the end of 2017, ransomware operators were found to be hijacking Bitcoin and Monero wallets using Android apps developed exclusively for the purpose of cryptocurrency mining. Many criminals appear to have favoured Litecoin over Bitcoin because there was a lesser chance of exposure.

Fileless Malware Attacks

Another trend uncovered by the McAfee Labs threat report was the adoption of fileless malware and abusing Microsoft PowerShell, which showed a 432% surge over the course of 2017.

Fileless malware involves hijacking tools that are already built-in to Windows rather than installing software on a victim’s computer. It is designed to work in-memory (in the computer’s RAM) and is, therefore, very resistant to existing anti-computer forensic strategies, and is difficult to detect.

The MacAfee report showed a huge 267% growth in the use of the new PowerShell malware. Powershell is a legitimate tool (scripting language) that is built-in to Windows, and provides access to a machine’s inner core, including Windows APIs. This is why it has become a favoured route for fileless malware attacks.

Increase In Attacks On Healthcare

One other disappointing trend uncovered in the McAfee Labs threat report is the dramatic 210% overall increase in incidents against healthcare organisations in 2017. It is believed that these attacks were facilitated by organisational failures to comply with security best practices, or to address many known vulnerabilities in medical software.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The report highlights how businesses now face risks on an unprecedented scale, and how, particularly with GDPR on the way, businesses need to prioritise cyber and data security. A collaborative and liberalised information-sharing approach should be taken to improve attack defences and combat escalating asymmetrical cyber warfare.

Cyber-criminals always try to combine the highest returns in the shortest time with the least risk. This is why tactics like cryptojacking, stealthy fileless PowerShell attacks, and attacks on soft targets such as hospitals have become so popular over the last year.

New threats for this year, such as cyber-criminals developing botnets exploiting the Internet of Things (IoT) will pose more challenges to businesses and the security industry.

New Threat From Fileless Powershell Exploits

Businesses now face the growing threat of fileless hacking and fileless malware attacks facilitated by the PowerShell scripting language that is already built-in to Windows.

Surge Reported

The latest McAfee Labs threat report shows what an emerging and dangerous threat the exploiting of the PowerShell scripting language has become. Taking the last quarter of 2017, the adoption of fileless malware via Microsoft PowerShell showed a 432% surge.

How Does It Work?

Microsoft PowerShell is a scripting language that’s built-in to the Windows OS. Its main legitimate uses include running background commands, checking services installed on the system, terminating processes, and the managing configurations of systems and servers.

The Microsoft PowerShell scripting language provides access to your computer’s inner core, including unrestricted access to Windows APIs. Also, because it is a legitimate part of your computer’s Operating System, any commands it executes are usually ignored by security software, and it provides no signature for antivirus software to detect. Another crucial aspect of Powershell is that it can run remotely through WinRM. For these reasons, it has become an ideal route for cyber-criminals.

Controlling Computers Using Powershell

A hack via Powershell involves attackers getting to PowerShell remotely through WinRM, enabling them to get through Windows Firewall, run more PowerShell scripts complete with admin control. Even if WinRM is turned off, it can be turned on remotely through WMI using a single line of code.

Also, through Powershell, once an attacker obtains a username and password for one computer, the path to complete compromise of the whole enterprise system is laid open.

Recent Fileless Malware Attacks

It has been reported that PowerShell malware arrives via spam email, and it is the embedded code in the email that contains the PowerShell commands. This code usually contains instructions to download another payload to carry out the primary malicious activity.

The McAfee Threat report shows how recent attacks have used Powershell to download malware of the Bartallex (.bat and .vbs files) and Dridex families onto the systems of victims in what are now popularly known as fileless malware attacks.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The combination of PowerShell providing legitimate access to computer’s and its subsequent ability to be ignored by security software, as well as the ability to run it remotely through WinRM make it a low risk, low cost and potentially and potentially high return tactic for cyber-criminals. This means that fileless hacks and fileless malware attacks are now a serious and present risk to businesses and organisations of all kinds.

The stealth factor, plus the fact that it goes under the radar of normal antivirus software makes detection very difficult. The one clear chance to stop it appears to be not opening the malicious email that contains the code that begins the attack. Companies and organisations need to make sure that all staff are trained to recognise and resist social engineering tactics, and to be made aware of the risk of downloading and installing applications that they do not understand or trust.

Facebook Ads That Target Your Beliefs

In a new trial involving a small number of users in the UK, Facebook has said that it will be testing the targeting of adverts based on users’ specific political and religious beliefs.


According to Facebook, the trial will help the social media platform to process and manage its customer data, so that it will be in a better position to ensure compliance with GDPR when it comes into force in May this year.

The severity of the fines associated with the enforcement of GDPR for large companies such as Facebook e.g. a fine for a breach of up to €20 million or 4% of their global annual turnover, whichever is greater, is likely to be a big motivator behind a trial that could improve how Facebook processes and stores data.

How Could Targeting Adverts This Way Be Of Help?

The trial appears to be using adverts for consenting participants to focus on testing and improving how the company handles the required greater consent from data subjects that GDPR will bring, and to ensure that sensitive data is better protected.

One other important result of the trial will be to enable the testing of facial recognition. Facebook is exploring how it can successfully give users an opt-in for facial recognition, which will form part of a measure to stop online impersonations by informing users whenever their faces have been used elsewhere on the site.

The Trial

It has been reported that the trial will work by first asking a number of UK users for permission to allow advertisers to target them on the basis of their political and religious beliefs, and their listed interests.

It is understood that Facebook will also ask users whether they are happy for their public information that identifies them (e.g. their faith and politics) to remain visible for everyone and, if permission is given, Facebook will provide an opt-in for allowing the information to be used to personalise content, and also act as one of the signals for relevant suggesting ads. This will include targeted advertising based upon things like politics, sexuality and faith.


Some people have expressed fear that opting-in to elements of the trial could enable extremists to use targeted advertising for recruitment propaganda. Facebook has denied this.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story is more proof that the seriousness of the implications of GDPR is hitting home, particularly with those companies that stand to lose in a big way if they are found not to be compliant. Although the subject of targeted advertising is an emotive one that can make us feel a bit uneasy as Internet users in terms of privacy, it is at least good news that this Facebook trial could lead to better protection of our personal data by a platform that arguably knows more about us than most.

With X-day now past this story should be another reminder that its time for companies everywhere to think about double-checking that their own systems and procedures will be GDPR compliant.

Location Based Marketing … Creepy?

MoviePass CEO, Mitch Lowe, has caused controversy by telling the Hollywood audience at the Entertainment Finance Forum that his MoviePass app can track and gather information about users before and after their trip to the movies.

What Is MoviePass?

MoviePass, based in New York, offers a service whereby, for a flat monthly fee ($9.95 per month), users can go and watch unlimited number of movies in cinemas, with some restrictions. It could be described as a kind of Netflix for moviegoers.

Location Tracking

According to the MoviePass CEO, the company’s app has location-tracking built-in. What some commentators have described as ‘creepy’ though is that the app can track your movements long before and after you’ve been to watch a movie.


What MoviePass prefers to call ‘location-based marketing’ is reportedly being used to improve the customer’s experience of the service and create more opportunities for subscribers to enjoy all the various elements of what the company thinks make up a good movie night. The company says that by tracking customers and gathering data along the way, it can “create a full-featured movie-going experience”.


The big idea is that subscribers may want refreshments before or after the movie, and may have to travel some distance to the cinema. By knowing a subscriber’s location and route, MoviePass can then, via the phone app, give the subscriber details like discounts on transportation, finding places to park nearby, coupons for nearby restaurants, and other similar opportunities.

What Kind Of Data Is Gathered?

According to online reporting of CEO Lowe’s speech, as well as your location, the MoviePass app is also capable of gathering “an enormous amount of information,” which includes your address, which Mr. Lowe says can be used for demographic information.


What MoviePass may see as a kind of personalised, helpful marketing idea, critics appear to see as a potentially dangerous invasion of privacy that could have security consequences for MoviePass subscribers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Using new technology to improve marketing and customer experiences is all very well, but the point here is that customers need to be informed exactly what happens to their data, what is collected by the app, how it’s stored and for how long. This will enable them to make an informed choice, give consent, or decline. In a time when cyber-crime and data mismanagement and theft appear to be rife, customers value their privacy and data security more than ever. Companies need to be transparent about their intentions and methods, and need to be able to show customers that they can be trusted with their valuable personal data.

Also, in this case, it appeared to come as a shock about the capabilities of the app, and to some commentators, it may have appeared to be an inappropriate way and style to reveal what the app is capable of. This is likely to prompt complaints from some customers, and could harm the reputation of MoviePass.

If you are worried about the security implications of apps of this kind, for example, you could try to limit location data collection by going into your phone’s app settings. One other, obvious way to avoid any problems with the app would be to avoid MoviePass for now.

The introduction of GDPR in May this year is also likely to have implications for how MoviePass deals with the data of any EU citizen subscribers, as the company will need to comply with the new Regulation.

One Hour To Take Down Illegal Content

New measures by the EU will mean that technology companies will have as little as just one hour to take down illegal and terror content, or face penalties under new legislation.

Why Only One Hour?

The new measure, which has reportedly been met with dismay by the big tech companies such as Google and Facebook (who will arguably be most seriously affected), is focused mainly on terror-related content. The logic is that because terrorist content is considered to be most harmful in the first hours of its appearance online, all companies will, therefore, be required to remove such content within only one hour from its referral, as a general rule.

Other illegal content that is being targeted by the new measures includes incitement to hatred and violence, child sexual abuse material, counterfeit products and copyright infringement content.

3 Months To Report Back

As well as the news that tech companies must remove the most serious content within one hour, the EC has also announced that any tech company that is responsible for people posting content online will have only three months from now to report back to the EU on what they were doing to meet the new targets it has set.

Operational Measures

The EC recommendations are that a set of operational measures will be used to ensure faster detection and removal of illegal content online, to reinforce the cooperation between companies, trusted flaggers and law enforcement authorities, and to increase transparency and safeguards for citizens. These operational measures will be:

  • Clearer ‘notice and action’ procedures. Companies should set out easy and transparent rules for notifying illegal content. These should include fast-track procedures for ‘trusted flaggers’. Also, to avoid unintended removal of content which is not illegal, content providers should be informed about such decisions and have the opportunity to contest them.
  • More efficient tools and proactive technologies. This means that companies should set out clear notification systems for users. These should include proactive tools to detect and remove illegal content, in particular for terrorism-related content and for content which does not need contextualisation to be deemed illegal, such as child sexual abuse material or counterfeited goods.
  • Stronger safeguards to ensure rights. To ensure that decisions to remove content are accurate and well-founded, companies should put in place effective and appropriate safeguards. These should include human oversight and verification, in full respect of fundamental rights, freedom of expression and data protection rules.
  • Special attention to small companies. The technology industry should, through voluntary arrangements, cooperate and share experiences, best practices and technological solutions, and this shared responsibility should particularly benefit smaller platforms with more limited resources and expertise.
  • Closer cooperation with authorities. If there is evidence of a serious criminal offence or a suspicion that illegal content is posing a threat to life or safety, companies will be required to promptly inform law enforcement authorities, and EC Member States should establish the appropriate legal obligations.

The recommendations are in addition to on-going work with the technology industry through voluntary initiatives to ensure that the internet is free of illegal content, and are intended to reinforce actions taken under different initiatives.

Response From The Tech Industry

Although Facebook has said that it shares the European Commission’s goal, the industry association EDiMA, (which includes Facebook, Google, and Twitter) has stressed that the one-hour turn-around time could harm the effectiveness of service providers’ take-down systems rather than help.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As the Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip has pointed out, online platforms have become many people’s main gateway to information. For this reason, and if we accept that what is illegal offline is also illegal online, many people feel that these widely used technology platfoms now have a responsibility to provide a secure environment for their users. Many businesses are advertisers on these platforms, and are likely to share a desire to rid them of illegal content.

While some popular tech platforms have continued to resist what some see as too much censorship, interference, or over-regulation, the frequency and severity of terrorist attacks in Europe and the role and influence of platforms in spreading information, true or false (e.g. the US election) has given governments the fuel, impetus, and feeling of justification to try and apply more force to tech companies. The EC’s view is that the spread of illegal content online undermines the trust of citizens in the Internet and poses security threats, and the new operational measures could, along with any self-regulation, speed up the process of clearing illegal content.

The scale and frequency of illegal content posting has posed serious cost and resources challenges to tech platforms in recent years.

Dropbox Integrates With Google Cloud and G-Suite

Dropbox has announced that it is now one step closer to delivering a unified home for work by forming a new partnership with Google Cloud that will integrate G-Suite in its cloud storage.

What Was The Problem?

Dropbox had been looking for ways to respond to the need for users to be able to make projects easier to manage, centralise their frequently used files and information, and reduce the time wasted in having to swap between files and bits of work scattered across storage buckets, apps, and devices. The company is also looking for new ways to compete in a crowded cloud storage market.

The new integration that the partnership will deliver to all Dropbox users will mean that they can use Dropbox to create, open, and edit Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides files live. It will also mean that Business Administrators will be able to manage Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides files like any other content that resides in Dropbox.

With a G Suite made accessible, no matter what tools users bring to work, Dropbox and Google customers will be able to better collaborate with their frequently used tools.

Additional Native G Suite Integrations

As well as being able to use Google Docs and files in Dropbox, users will also be able to benefit from additional native G Suite integrations e.g. with Gmail and Hangouts Chat. This could help teams to stay connected with project content and the conversations around it. The Gmail add-on will allow users to display the dates of creation, modification, and last-accessed for linked files, and the Hangouts integration will bring previews for linked files directly to chats.

When Is It Available?

The new Dropbox, Google Cloud and G-Suite integration will be made available to Dropbox customers in the second half of 2018.

One of Many Collaborations For Dropbox

This is one of many collaborations with leading brands for Dropbox in recent times. For example, Dropbox has formed partnerships with Adobe Creative Cloud and its Adobe XD, Microsoft, Apple, and Workplace by Facebook.

Answer To Competition

The latest partnership with Google is another way that Dropbox can fight back against some fierce competition from the likes of Microsoft. For example, Microsoft is reported to have been trying to lure users of cloud services from Box, Dropbox and Alphabet’s Google Drive by giving them its competitive product ‘OneDrive for Business’ for free until their current contract expires. Microsoft will be running the promotional switching offer for the next five months.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For businesses that collaborate online and need to centralise stored documents, this latest partnership is likely to be good news. The promise of centralised content, secure collaboration, and more effective communication through platforms that are already in popular use for many businesses could bring cost and time savings, reduce wastage and frustration, and could improve competitiveness by simplifying things.

All the collaborations between Dropbox and other leading brands could be particularly beneficial to small businesses that will be able to more easily access files, documents and other types of data they need on a daily basis.

Also, this good news about Dropbox can only be helpful in making some headway in restoring trust and helping customers to forget about the bad news from last September when it was revealed that the usernames, email addresses and encrypted passwords of an astonishing 68 million customers, stolen in a hack back in 2012 had re-surfaced in a leak.

Blockchain Used To Reduce Child Labour

Blockchain Used To Reduce Child Labour Blockchain, the same technology that powers the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, is being tested in a pilot project between car-maker BMW and start-up Circulor with a view to eliminating battery minerals produced using child labour.

What Is Blockchain?

Blockchain is an incorruptible peer-to-peer network (a kind of ledger) that allows multiple parties to transfer value in a secure and transparent way. Blockchain’s Co-Founder Nic Carey describes Blockchain as being like “a big spreadsheet in the cloud that anyone can use, but no one can erase or modify”.

Battery Mineral Problem

The pilot between BMW and Circulor is focusing on reducing child labour by finding a way to avoid using any cobalt that is mined in unregulated artisanal mines in Democratic Republic of Congo. At the moment one fifth of cobalt is mined in a way that often uses child labour.

How Can Blockchain Help?

The pilot project is using Blockchain to help provide a way to prove that artisanal miners are not using child labour in their cobalt mining activities.

Each bag of cobalt produced by an artisanal miner will be given a digital tag. This tag will be entered into Blockchain using a mobile phone. The details of the digital tag will then be entered by each link in the chain of buyers, thereby providing a clear, verifiable trail, all the way from miner to smelter. Since Blockchain is ‘incorruptible’, provided all organizations throughout the supply chain will be involved in the project, the Blockchain evidence should be accurate.


Challenges to the system being tested in the pilot could include cobalt mined by a child could simply being mixed in with ‘clean’ cobalt prior to processing.

Used In Similar Industries

There is every reason to think that Blockchain could help with ethical cobalt mining and supply because it has been used in a similar way by the diamond industry to provide a forgery-proof record of a diamond’s lifecycle.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The Blockchain technology has always shown huge promise, beyond simply being used in digital currencies. One of its key strengths is that trust is embedded into the incorruptible system. This means that businesses can use it to categorically prove a certain source and route for e.g. delivery, raw materials or production. This could be particularly valuable to businesses where provenance of some kind is necessary to add to the monetary, ethical or other value of a product or service.

After first being used in the financial, legal and public sectors, Blockchain is now being used by businesses and organisations around the world in many other different ways such as:

  • Using the data on a Blockchain ledger to record the temperature of sensitive medicines being transported from manufacturers to hospitals in hot climates. The ‘incorruptible’ aspect of the Blockchain data gives a clear record of care and responsibility along the whole supply chain.
  • Using an IBM-based Blockchain ledger to record data about wine certification, ownership and storage history. This has helped to combat fraud in the industry and has provided provenance and re-assurance to buyers.
  • Shipping Company Maersk using a Blockchain-based system for tracking consignments that addresses visibility and efficiency i.e. digitising a formerly paper-based process that involved multiple interactions.
  • Start-up company ‘Electron’ building a Blockchain-based system for sharing information between those involved in supplying energy which could speed up and simplify the supplier switching process. It may also be used for smart grid processes, such as local load-balancing of supply and demand.
  • Australian start-up Zimrii developing a Blockchain-based service that allows independent musicians to sell downloads to fans, distribute the proceeds between collaborators, and allow interaction with managers.

Blockchain still has huge untapped potential for all kinds of businesses and could represent a major opportunity to improve services, and effectively tackle visibility, transparency and efficiency issues.

A Quarter Of Councils Have Been Hacked

A freedom of information request by privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch has revealed the shocking statistic that a quarter of all UK councils have had their IT systems breached in the past five years.

37 Attempted Cyber Attacks Every Minute

The ‘Cyber Attacks In Local Authorities’ report from Big Brother Watch shows that local governments are subject to cyber attack attempts at the staggering rate of 37 per minute!

Thankfully, only a tiny fraction of the attacks launched are successful although this still represents a serious problem. For example, 114 councils experienced at least one incident between 2013 and 2017.

High Stakes

The nature of the work of UK Councils is such that they hold a large amount of up-to-date personal data for people in their areas, so one successful breach can have very serious consequences.

Not Disclosing Breaches

One particularly worrying aspect of council behaviour exposed by the report is that, from the data gathered, few seem to have reported losses and breaches of data, which is something that organisations will be required to do within 72 hours under GDPR when it comes into force in May.

Human Error – Training Needed

As in so many companies and organisations, human error is often a factor in breaches. In 2015, for example, Big Brother Watch has exposed how local authorities committed 4 data breaches a day, all thought to be predominantly caused by human error.

Big Brother Watch has also revealed that that, despite the number and seriousness of the breaches, little action has been taken by UK councils to increase staff awareness and education in matters of cyber security and data protection. For example, it has been disclosed that 75% of local authorities do not provide mandatory training in cyber security awareness for staff, and that16% do not provide any training at all!

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Some commentators have been quick to point out that bearing in mind how much sensitive data councils hold about citizens, and the incredible amount of attempted cyber attacks against them, they could be making more of an effort and an investment to beef-up security.

Other commentators have noted that cuts to council budgets e.g. with austerity measures may have played their part in limiting cyber security effectiveness in UK councils.

After the shocking findings of the report, Big Brother Watch issued some recommendations to local authorities which could very well apply to other businesses and organisations. These are:

  • Cyber security should be prioritised, and that rather than investing too much in surveillance technologies, more should be invested in cyber security strategies and in the training of staff.
  • Cyber security incidents should be consistently reported, and that a protocol needs to be established so that incidents are reported quickly and to the right authorities e.g. the police, the ICO, and the National Cyber Security Centre.
  • All staff should receive mandatory training in cyber security because Cyber attacks are not only designed to breach computer systems, but also to exploit humans who are often the weakest cyber security link.

GDPR Extortion Prediction

A report by Security Company Trend Micro has predicted that, as cyber-criminals are now focusing more on maximising financial return, the introduction of GDPR this year could give them potentially lucrative extortion opportunities.


The point that this report is making is that with the prospect of massive fines under GDPR e.g. fines up to €20 million, or 4% of their global turnover, criminals could extort large sums of money from companies with the threat of a cyber-attack that could lead to data security breach, which could, in turn, lead to a fine under GDPR. It has been suggested that criminals could first determine the penalty under GDPR that could result from an attack, and then demand a ransom of slightly less than that fine.

What’s Happening?

The recent trends in cyber-crime are what have led to this latest chilling prediction. For example, the fact that cyber-criminals appear to be abandoning exploit kits and indiscriminate attacks in favour of more strategic attacks with maximised financial gain is a trend that has become more apparent. This trend coupled with the fact that, although the number of reported breaches in 2017 was lower than in 2016, the amount of data compromised by cyber attacks increased, have led security commentators to believe that criminals will seek to exploit GDPR as a money-making weapon.

Predictions Started Last Year

Predictions that the threat of GDPR fines could be exploited by criminals first surfaced in the media last November when researcher Mikko Hypponen made the point that GDPR fine figures could give cyber-criminals who are using ransomware, or hackers stealing data, a price point to set the ransom at because now they know how much money they should be asking.

Hypponen argued that because the criminals know what data is worth / what covering-up a data breach may be worth to some companies (probably large, well-known ones), these companies may be actually willing to pay anything less than the full amount of the fine to avoid serious damage to their reputation, loss of customers and more.

According to Hypponen, ransoms could, therefore, be set at up to 2% or 3% of the targeted organisation’s global annual turnover. This could equate to millions of dollars in some cases.

Threat Of Reporting Too

As well as the threat of a ransom to avoid a direct, deliberate attack that would result in a fine, security commentators have also suggested that hackers / scammers could steal data with advanced ransomware and then blackmail the victims with the threat of reporting them to the data protection commissioner. This is because ransomware can affect the availability, access, and recovery of personal data.

Other Trends

Other Trends uncovered in the recent Trend Micro Report include:

  • A 32% increase in new ransomware families from 2016 to 2017.
  • A doubling of business email compromise (BEC) attempts between the first and second half of 2017.
    Rapidly rising rates of cryptocurrency mining malware (100,000 detections in October).
  • A 22% increase from 2016 in BEC attempts to trick company employees into approving money transfers to criminal accounts, mostly targeting the chief financial officer (CFO).
  • More attacks on vulnerable internet of things (IoT) devices, with software vulnerabilities also continued to be targeted (1,009 new flaws discovered and disclosed in 2017).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As well as being an opportunity to get the (data) house in order and to enhance competitiveness (GDPR compliant companies are more likely to want to deal with other compliant companies), the size of the fines and now the potential activities of extortionists are risks for the coming years for UK businesses. Even though these predictions relate to more daring and sophisticated crimes, companies should still make sure that they are at least covered against more basic attempts e.g. by keeping up to date with software patching, and covering all known vulnerabilities.

Ways that companies could protect themselves against hacking / ransomware threats include only giving users access to what they need and taking away admin privileges, backing up all critical files effectively and securely, and testing those backups to make sure that information can be restored in a usable form. Training of staff e.g. chief financial officers (CFOs) or anyone involved in payment, and establishing a clear process for checking and chain of command could reduce the risk of BEC attempts and socially engineered attacks. Businesses would also be wise to make sure that their Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans are kept up to date in the light of emerging threats.

Belgium Says No To Facebook Tracking Code

A court in Belgium has told Facebook to stop using tracking code to follow and record internet use by people surfing in Belgium, until it complies with the country’s own privacy laws.

What’s The Problem?

According to Belgium’s privacy watchdog, the Belgian Commission for the Protection of Privacy (CPP), Facebook placed tracking code in the form of ‘cookies’ on third-party websites. This would mean that Facebook’s actions did not comply with Belgium’s privacy laws because:

  • It tracked people without consent.
  • It tracked people who were not Facebook users.
  • It (presumably) stored the tracked personal data that it obtained illegally in the first place.

What Now?

If Facebook fails to comply with Belgium’s CPP it could face fines of £221,000 per day.

Industry Standard

Facebook is reported to have expressed disappointment at the verdict and has stated that it is simply using the same industry standard cookies and pixels that other EU businesses use to help them grow their business.


This latest case appears to be the latest round in a long-running, ongoing dispute between the social media giant and the CPP. For example, back in November 2015, the CPP won a case against Facebook concerning the tracking of people with a ‘datr cookie’ when they visited pages on the site and clicked on like or share, even if they had never registered for an account, or if they had but weren’t even logged in.

Facebook was able to appeal and win an overturning of the verdict because it was judged that Belgian courts didn’t have international jurisdiction over Facebook Ireland i.e. because the data collected by the cookies was stored on servers in Dublin, the European base of Facebook’s operations.

The CPP then indicated that it would try to appeal against Facebook’s successful appeal through Belgium’s court of cassation, using a Yahoo case as an example. With Yahoo, for example, it was ruled back in 2015 that finding against Yahoo wouldn’t have to mean intervention outside of Belgium, and that, since Yahoo actively participated in the economic life of Belgium by using the domain name .be or displaying ads based on users’ location e.g. in Belgium, it voluntarily submitted itself to Belgian law.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story has commercial, legal and political aspects to it. Cookies can provide useful information and functions for businesses e.g. helping to personalise user browsing experiences, and gathering information about users of the company website – usually with an initial registration of consent by users of a website.

With this Facebook case, as web users, we may feel uneasy that trusted companies may be tracking all-comers without consent. This kind of story reminds us all about the importance of privacy and security, and its worth remembering that cookies sent over the web without encryption i.e. if the website doesn’t have HTTPS in front of the domain, could be a security risk because they are readable by anyone on a network and could sensitive data e.g. credit card details, e-mail address and more. Google, for example, has just announced that from July, Chrome will be labelling websites without HTTPS as ‘Not Secure’ to try and combat this kind of risk.

The legal aspect of this case relates to which country has jurisdiction over the actions of a company whose services are used in that country, but the HQ and the data storage are in another country. This is another long-running legal argument e.g. Apple’s tax breaks in Ireland.

Many see the EU and people like the EU’s commissioner for competition, and measures like greater regulation and taxation as being useful to curb some of the more suspect behaviour of the big US Internet companies in Europe.

The introduction of GDPR should also provide greater protection for EU citizens in terms of online privacy and security. The UK will soon not be an EU member, but will have its own similar Bill added to UK law, but this could produce more legal grey areas.

There is clearly a political dimension to this story too as Belgium seeks to hold a powerful overseas company to account, and it wouldn’t be the first time that an EU country has tried to do this.