Inadequate cyber security costing councils

A council has been fined £70,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for leaving vulnerable people’s personal information exposed online for five years.

The Data Protection Act requires organisations to take appropriate measures to keep personal data secure, especially when dealing with sensitive information. But Nottinghamshire County Council posted the gender, addresses, postcodes and care requirements of elderly and disabled people in an online directory which didn’t have basic security or access restrictions such as a username or password. The council offered no mitigation to the ICO.

The matter was only discovered when a member of the public using a search engine was inadvertently able to access and view the data with no need to log in, and was concerned that it could be used by criminals to target vulnerable people or their homes – especially as it even revealed whether or not they were still in hospital.

The council had launched its ‘Home Care Allocation System’ (HCAS), an online portal allowing social care providers to confirm that they had capacity to support a particular service user, in July 2011. When the breach was reported in June 2016, the HCAS system contained a directory of 81 service users. It is understood the data of 3,000 people had been posted in the five years the system was online.

ICO Head of Enforcement Steve Eckersley said: “This was a serious and prolonged breach of the law. For no good reason, the council overlooked the need to put robust measures in place to protect people’s personal information, despite having the financial and staffing resources available.

“Given the sensitive nature of the personal data and the vulnerability of the people involved, this was totally unacceptable and inexcusable. Organisations need to understand that they have to treat the security of data as seriously as they take the security of their premises or their finances.”


Positive action needed

Commenting on this latest in a long line of council data breaches, Agilisys Transformation consultant, Mel Kingston, commented: “We see that the information commissioners continues to enforce strongly on those found to be committing data breaches. Unfortunately, of the five councils that have been fined so far this year, four related to inadequate online and cyber security measures, both of which can be resolved with relatively simple solutions.

“This particular instance was identified by a member of the public simply by chance, which reinforces the importance of considering all information governance aspects surrounding sensitive personal information.

“It is clear that poor cyber and online security measures remain key areas that if not properly governed leave organisations at risk of attracting a fine. Activities such as completing a privacy impact assessment and having assurance processes in place for information governance throughout an organisation will mitigate this risk.”

Related reading