Ibrahim Hasan sets out what data protection officers need to know about cyber breaches.
Cyber security breaches are on the rise. Virtually every day there is a news story about a high profile organisation being hacked and personal data being lost or stolen. The BBC recently reported that thousands, if not millions, of people could have lost money in the second largest crypto hack in history. Ronin Network, a key platform powering the popular mobile game Axie Infinity, has had $615m (£467m) stolen. More recently UK retailer, The Works has been forced to shut shops temporarily and suspend new stock deliveries after a cyber-attack.
And it’s not just the private sector. In January we learnt that Gloucester City Council’s website was hacked affecting online revenue and benefits, planning and customer services. The work of Russian hackers (allegedly) could take up to six months to resolve and affected servers and systems may need to be rebuilt.
Data Protection Officers need to be aware of the latest incidents and advice when it comes to cyber security breaches. The recently published DCMS Cyber Security Breaches Survey is important reading for all DPOs. It explores the policies, processes, and approaches to cyber security for businesses, charities, and educational institutions. It also considers the different forms of cyber-attack these organisations face, as well as how they are impacted and their response.
The survey results show that in the last 12 months, 39% of UK businesses identified a cyber-attack. Of these, the most common threat vector was phishing attempts (83%). Of the 39%, around one in five (21%) identified a more sophisticated attack type such as a denial of service, malware, or ransomware attack. Despite its low prevalence, organisations cited ransomware as a major threat, with 56% of businesses having a policy not to pay ransoms. Note recently the GDPR fine issued to a firm of solicitors who suffered such an attack. Interestingly they too chose not to pay the hackers.
Frequency and Impact
Within the group of organisations reporting cyber-attacks, 31% of businesses and 26% of charities estimate they were attacked at least once a week. One in five businesses (20%) and charities (19%) say they experienced a negative outcome as a direct consequence of a cyber-attack, while one third of businesses (35%) and almost four in ten charities (38%) experienced at least one negative impact. It is interesting that the survey focussed on charities too. July 2021 saw the first GDPR fine to a charity. The transgender charity Mermaids was fined £25,000 after the ICO found that it had failed to implement an appropriate level of security to its internal email systems, which resulted in documents or emails containing personal data being searchable and viewable online by third parties through internet search engine results.
Cost of Attacks
The survey found the average estimated cost of all cyber attacks in the last 12 months was £4,200. Considering only medium and large businesses; the figure rises to £19,400. Of course such incidents also mean a loss of reputation and customer trust. In October 2020, the ICO fined British Airways £20million for a cyber security breach which saw the personal and financial details of more than 400,000 customers being accessed by hackers. British Airways also had to settle legal claims for compensation from affected customers.
The government guidance ‘10 Steps to Cyber Security’ breaks down the task of protecting an organisation into 10 key components. The survey finds 49% of businesses and 40% of charities have acted in at least five of these 10 areas. In particular, access management surveyed most favourably, while supply chain security was the least favourable.
Around four in five (82%) of boards or senior management within UK businesses rate cyber security as a ‘very high’ or ‘fairly high’ priority, an increase on 77% in 2021. 72% in charities rate cyber security as a ‘very high’ or ‘fairly high’ priority. Additionally, 50% of businesses and 42% of charities say they update the board on cyber security matters at least quarterly. Our new webinar “GDPR and the Charity Sector Webinar” is ideal for raising awareness amongst charity trustees.
Larger organisations are correlated throughout the survey with enhanced cyber security, likely as a consequence of increased funding and expertise. For large businesses’ cyber security; 80% update the board at least quarterly, 63% conducted a risk assessment, and 61% carried out staff training; compared with 50%, 33% and 17% respectively for all businesses. Our GDPR Essentials e learning course contains a specific module on keeping data safe which warns of the most common cyber hacking/phishing tactics.
Just over half of businesses surveyed (54%) have acted in the past 12 months to identify cyber security risks, including a range of actions, where security monitoring tools (35%) were the most common. Qualitative interviews however found that limited board understanding meant the risk was often passed on to; outsourced cyber providers, insurance companies, or an internal cyber colleague.
Outsourcing and Supply Chain
Small, medium, and large businesses outsource their IT and cyber security to an external supplier 58%, 55%, and 60% of the time respectively, with organisations citing access to greater expertise, resources, and standard for cyber security. Consequently, only 13% of businesses assessed the risks posed by their immediate suppliers, with organisations saying that cyber security was not an important factor in the procurement process.
Incident management policy is limited with only 19% of businesses having a formal incident response plan, while 39% have assigned roles should an incident occur. In contrast, businesses show a clear reactive approach when breaches occur, with 84% of businesses saying they would inform the board, while 73% would make an assessment of the attack.
Outside of working with external cyber security providers, organisations most keenly engage with insurers, where 43% of businesses have an insurance policy that cover cyber risks. On the other hand, only 6% of businesses have the Cyber Essentials certification and 1% have Cyber Essentials plus, which is largely due to relatively low awareness. The importance of this was highlighted in the recent GDPR fine issued to Tuckers solicitors.
The DCMS Cyber Security Breaches Survey is important reading for all Data Protection Officers and IT staff. Aligning with the National Cyber Strategy, it is used to inform government policy on cyber security. It should also be used to stay abreast of cyber security developments and formulate your own organisation’s cyber security strategy.
Ibrahim Hasan is a solicitor and director of Act Now Training.
Act Now’s Managing Personal Data Breaches workshop will examine the law and best practice in this area, drawing on real-life case studies, to identify how organisations can position themselves to deal appropriately with data security incidents and data breaches, in order to minimise the impact on customers and service users and mitigate reputational damage.