Information Commissioner's Office
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Top IT data security threats revealed and what organisations must do to stop them

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published a new security report highlighting eight of the most common IT security vulnerabilities that have resulted in organisations failing to keep people’s information secure.

The flaws were identified during the ICO’s investigations into data breaches caused by poor IT security practices. Many of these incidents have led to serious security breaches resulting in the ICO issuing monetary penaltiestotalling almost a million pounds. The breaches could have been avoided if the standard industry practices highlighted in today’s report were adopted.

They include the £200,000 penalty issued to the British Pregnancy Advice Service after the details of service users were compromised due to the insecure collection and storage of the information on their website, and the £250,000 fine issued to Sony Computer Entertainment Europe after the company failed to keep its software up to date, leading to the details of millions of customers being compromised during a targeted attack.

Announcing the publication of today’s advice the ICO’s Group Manager for Technology, Simon Rice, said:

“In just the past couple of months we have already seen widespread concern over the expiry of support for Microsoft XP and the uncovering of the security flaw known as Heartbleed. While these security issues may seem complex, it is important that organisations of all sizes have a basic understanding of these types of threats and know what action they need to take to make sure their computer systems are keeping customers’ information secure.

“Our experiences investigating data breaches on a daily basis shows that whilst some organisations are taking IT security seriously, too many are failing at the basics. If you’re responsible for the security of your organisation’s information and you think salt is just something you put on your chips, rather than a method for protecting your passwords, then our report is for you.

“The report provides an introduction into these established industry practices that could save you the financial and reputational costs associated with a serious data breach.”     

The top eight computer security vulnerabilities covered in the ICO’s report comprise:

  • a failure to keep software security up to date;

  • a lack of protection from SQL injection;

  • the use of unnecessary services;

  • poor decommissioning of old software and services;

  • the insecure storage of passwords;

  • failure to encrypt online communications;

  • poorly designed networks processing data in inappropriate areas; and

  • the continued use of default credentials including passwords.

As well as the comprehensive report, the ICO’s Simon Rice will be publishinga series of blogs this week explaining the key aspects of the ICO’s latest advice in further detail. His first blog published this morning explains the pressing need for today’s report and how it was developed (LINK).

Simon will also be taking part in a question and answer session this Friday to respond to any questions people have about today’s report. Anyone who would like to send in a question can email the details or tweet @ICONews by 10.30am on Thursday 15 May.


Notes to Editors

1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.

3. The ICO is on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn, and produces a monthly e-newsletter.

4. Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:

  • Fairly and lawfully processed
  • Processed for limited purposes
  • Adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • Accurate and up to date
  • Not kept for longer than is necessary
  • Processed in line with your rights
  • Secure
  • Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection

5. If you need more information, please contact the ICO press office on 0303 123 9070.

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