On 10th March the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced that it had fined Tuckers Solicitors LLP £98,000 for a breach of GDPR.
The fine follows a ransomware attack on the firm’s IT systems in August 2020. The attacker had encrypted 972,191 files, of which 24,712 related to court bundles. 60 of those were exfiltrated by the attacker and released on the dark web. Some of the files included Special Category Data. Clearly this was a personal data breach, not just for the fact that data was released on the dark web, but because of the unavailability of personal data (though encryption by the attacker) which is also cover by the definition in Article 4 GDPR. Tuckers reported the breach to the ICO as well as affected individuals through various means including social media.
The ICO found that between 25th May 2018 (the date the GDPR came into force) and 25th August 2020 (the date on which the Tuckers reported the personal data breach), Tuckers had contravened Article 5(1)(f) of the GDPR (the sixth Data Protection Principle, Security) as it failed to process personal data in a manner that ensured appropriate security of the personal data, including protection against unauthorised or unlawful processing and against accidental loss, destruction or damage, using appropriate technical or organisational measures. The ICO found its starting point for calculating the breach to be 3.25 per cent of Tuckers’ turnover for 30 June 2020. It could have been worse; the maximum for a breach of the Data Protection Principles is 4% of gross annual turnover.
In reaching its conclusions, the Commissioner gave consideration to Article 32 GDPR, which requires a Data Controller, when implementing appropriate security measures, to consider:
“…the state of the art, the costs of implementation and the nature, scope, context and purposes of processing as well as the risk of varying likelihood and severity for the rights and freedoms of natural persons”.
What does “state of the art” mean? In this case the ICO considered, in the context of “state of the art”, relevant industry standards of good practice including the ISO27000 series, the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (“NIST”), the various guidance from the ICO itself, the National Cyber Security Centre (“NCSC”), the Solicitors Regulatory
Authority, Lexcel and NCSC Cyber Essentials.
The ICO concluded that there are a number of areas in which Tuckers had failed to comply with, and to demonstrate that it complied, with the Security Principle. Their technical and organisational measures were, over the relevant period, inadequate in the following respects:
Lack of Multi-Factor Authentication (“MFA”)
MFA is an authentication method that requires the user to provide two or more verification factors to gain access to an online resource. Rather than just asking for a username and password, MFA requires one or more additional verification factors, which decreases the likelihood of a successful cyber-attack e.g. a code from a fob or text message. Tuckers had not used MFA on its remote access solution despite its own GDPR policy requiring it to be used where available.
Tuckers told the ICO that part of the reason for the attack was the late application of a software patch to fix a vulnerability. In January 2020 this patch was rated as “critical” by the NCSC and others. However Tuckers only installed it 4 months later.
Failure to Encrypt Personal data
The personal data stored on the archive server, that was subject to this attack, had not been encrypted. The ICO accepted that encryption may not have prevented the ransomware attack. However, it would have mitigated some of the risks the attack posed to the affected data subjects especially given the sensitive nature of the data.
Ransomware is on the rise. Organisations need to strengthen their defences and have plans in place; not just to prevent a cyber-attack but what to do when it does takes place:
- Conduct a cyber security risk assessment and consider an external accreditation through Cyber Essentials. The ICO noted that in October 2019, Tuckers was assessed against the Cyber Essentials criteria and found to have failed to meet crucial aspects. The fact that some 10 months later it had still not resolved this issue was, in the Commissioner’s view, sufficient to constitute a negligent approach to data security obligations.
- Making sure everyone in your organisation knows the risks of malware/ransomware and follows good security practice. Our GDPR Essentials e learning solution contains a module on keeping data safe.
- Have plans in place for a cyber security breach. See our Managing Personal Data Breaches workshop.
More useful advice in the ICO’s guidance note on ransomeware and DP compliance.
This and other GDPR developments will be discussed in detail on our forthcoming GDPR Update workshop. We also have a few places left on our Advanced Certificate in GDPR Practice course starting in April.