Category: Data Breach

Man United Ransomware Attack

Manchester United football club experienced a ransomware attack in late 2020. They were held to ransom for millions of pounds by cyberhackers who targeted the club’s computer systems and demanded payment to stop them from releasing sensitive data.

It is a difficult decision for any business – pay up or risk seeing highly sensitive information being wiped out or leaked into the public domain.

The club were clear from the start that the attack was very serious but it did not impact on their schedule of matches.

United brought in a team of technical experts to contain the attack and they informed the Police and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

The NCSC revealed that in 2019 an English Football league club was hit with a £5m ransomware demand. They were unable to access their CCTV or use entry turnstiles, but its’s not believed that they paid anything.

It took weeks of effort to get things back to normal following the attack and United could face fines of up to £18 million or two per cent of their total annual worldwide turnover from the Information Commissioner’s Office if the attack is found to have breached their fans’ data protection.

The NCSC has previously warned that there is a growing threat to sports clubs.

It took roughly 2 weeks for United IT staff and outside experts to regain control of the situation. It is believed they did not pay the attackers.

The episode was embarrassing for United and they are still under investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

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British Airways Fined for Data Breach

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined British Airways (BA) £20m for failing to protect the personal and financial details of more than 400,000 of its customers.

An ICO investigation found the airline was processing a significant amount of personal data without adequate security measures in place. This failure broke data protection law and, subsequently, BA was the subject of a cyber-attack during 2018, which it did not detect for more than two months.

The Data Breach

The attacker is believed to have potentially accessed the personal data of approximately 429,612 customers and staff. This included names, addresses, payment card numbers and CVV numbers of 244,000 BA customers.

Also, the usernames and passwords of BA employee and administrator accounts as well as usernames and PINs of up to 612 BA Executive Club accounts were potentially accessed, but this is uncertain. It is often impossible to be certain which data the hackers copied.

The ICO concluded that there were numerous measures BA could have used to mitigate the risk of an attacker being able to access the BA network. These include:

  • limiting access to applications, data and tools to only that which are required to fulfil a user’s role
  • undertaking rigorous testing, in the form of simulating a cyber-attack, on the business’ systems;
  • protecting employee and third party accounts with multi-factor authentication.

Since the attack, BA has made considerable improvements to its IT security.

BA did not detect the attack in June 2018 themselves but were alerted by a third party more than two months afterwards in September 2018. Once they became aware BA acted promptly and notified the ICO.

“When organisations take poor decisions around people’s personal data, that can have a real impact on people’s lives. The law now gives us the tools to encourage businesses to make better decisions about data, including investing in up-to-date security,” said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denman.

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How Accidental Data Leaks Happen

It’s easy to assume that all data breaches are the result of criminal activity, but that’s far from true.

A study of data from 2016/17 showed that 92% of security data incidents and 84% of confirmed data breaches were due to accidents or mistakes.

Here are the most common problems leading to leaks of data:

1. Expired Security Certificates

These certificates are an essential component in protecting systems and Equifax found out the hard way in 2017 when hackers accessed huge amounts of confidential data through an expired certificate. This data included 143 million records exposed containing names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and driver license numbers.

The data was stolen by hackers who exposed a vulnerability in Equifax’s web servers. If the relevant security certificates had been updated as they should have been – the hackers couldn’t have used that way in.

2. Unsecured Third Party Vendors

Many websites and complex systems are a mix of the owner’s software plus a variety of third party plugins, addons and linked external services. As in any other part of life – the weakest link determines the safety level of the whole system. If the 3rd parties aren’t adequately secured then the whole system becomes vulnerable.

3. Poor Email Security

Most hackers still gain access through phishing – that is sending out emails that attract people to respond in some way that gives the hackers the information they need to access systems. Maybe it’s through a fake quiz that requires a login and password or an offer of a gift token etc.

Or could just be that people haven’t learned the need to use passwords that are unguessable and not to write them down by their desk.

A company named Nightfall protects systems data and they have created the following article to explain in more detail how accidental data leaks can happen:

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Easyjet Data Breach

EasyJet announced in May 2020 that the personal data of nine million customers from around the world had been exposed in a data breach. The breach itself occurred in January 2020 and EasyJet did notify the UK Information Commissioner’s Office at that time, but did not tell its customers till April.

Details stolen in the breach include full names, email addresses and travel data with departure dates, arrival dates and booking dates.

Also 2,208 customers had their credit card details accessed after EasyJet was hacked.

A class action claim has been brought against EasyJet by law firm PGMBM.

PGMBM said that the exposure of details of individuals’ personal travel patterns may pose security risks to individuals and is a gross invasion of privacy. Also that under Article 82 of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (EU-GDPR), customers have a right to compensation for inconvenience, distress, annoyance and loss of control of their personal data.

For any Easyjet customers who wish to join the claim there is information available at

  1. Are EasyJet customers at risk?

EasyJet says that “there is no evidence that any personal information of any nature has been misused”.

“This was a highly sophisticated attacker. It took time to understand the scope of the attack and to identify who had been impacted.  We could only inform people once the investigation had progressed enough that we were able to identify whether any individuals have been affected, then who had been impacted and what information had been accessed”. 

“In April, we notified a small group of customers whose credit card details had been impacted and offered them support including a dedicated helpline and monitoring”.

“Passwords have not been impacted by this incident”.

Easyjet say that they have contacted all customers who have been impacted. If you have not heard from EasyJet directly, your information is not affected by the incident.

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Dixons Fined for Data Breach

Dixons Carphone has been fined £500,000 by the data watchdog over a computer hack which compromised the personal information of at least 14 million people.

The Information Commissioner’s Office found that hackers were able to access the names, postcodes, email addresses and failed credit checks of millions of people.

The data also included the details of 5.6 million payment cards used between July 2017 and April 2018.

Dixons Carphone says it has no confirmed evidence of any customers suffering fraud or financial loss as a result of the hack.

What Should Business Do to Protect Itself?

  1. Invest in expert cyber security and keep it up to date
  2. Maintain all computer devices with anti-virus and anti-malware and keep that up to date
  3. Regularly check all financial accounts. If you spot anything unusual, contact your provider immediately.
  4. Train staff on security procedures e.g. how to spot phishing attempts
  5. Stay up to date with protection against latest threats
  6. Remember that human beings are usually the weakest link in security.

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Cathay Pacific Data Breach

In 2018, aviation’s biggest data breach occurred when the information on 9.4 million customers was stolen from Cathay Pacific.

Strangely, most of the data accessed was about passenger travel plans and very little about financial information. Only 430 credit card details were stolen and most of those were incomplete or out of date.

Hong Kong’s watchdog – The Privacy Commissioner investigated the data breach and accused Cathay Pacific of two contraventions of law in having insufficient regard for data privacy and taking seven months to disclose the breach.

The data stolen consisted of passenger names, flight details, email address, membership number, phone number, date of birth etc. This included passport numbers in 9% of cases and identity numbers in 6% of cases.

The watchdog said Cathay contravened the law on two counts: first, it did not take all reasonably practicable steps to protect data. Second, Cathay retained Hong Kong identity card numbers 13 years after being collected.

Cathay’s investigation concluded there were two distinct groups of hackers. The first group is traced to October, 2014 when keylogger malware was installed to harvest user information and this attack continued until March 2018.

The second attack occurred in August, 2017 and exploited a vulnerability of an internet facing server, (a long standing and well known security risk). This second group made a brute force attack in March, 2018  that resulted in approximately 500 Cathay staff being locked out of their account, according to the report. The last known activity of the attack was on May 11, 2018.

Cathay said that its operations and flight safety systems were not impacted and flight safety was never compromised. Cathay has already made some changes, and said “as the sophistication of cyber attackers continues to increase, need to and will continue to invest in and evolve our IT security systems.”

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