Charity fined £100,000 after data breach

Bible Society liable for penalty after ICO rules that safeguards around supporters’ records were inadequate, put personal data at risk.

James Hayes | 8th Jun 18
Image of unlocked padlock on a keyboard, representing a charity data breach

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined the British and Foreign Bible Society £100,000 after the charity’s IT network was compromised due to a cyber-attack in 2016.

Between November and December 2016, hackers exploited a weakness in the Society’s IT network to access the personal data of 417,000 of its supporters. For a subset of these supporters some payment card and bank account details were placed at risk.

More generally known as The Bible Society, the charity translates and distributes the Bible in the UK and around the world. It relies on card donations from its UK supporters. Their details were kept on an insufficiently-secured internal network, according to the ICO, and in 2009 the Society created a service account on the same network.

‘This account, which was configured in such a way as to provide inappropriate remote access rights to the network, was only secured with an easy-to-guess password,’ the ICO said in a statement. ‘The attackers deployed ransomware, and while the society’s data was not permanently damaged or rendered inaccessible by the encryption, the attackers were able to transfer some files out of the network.’

The Commissioner found that, although the Society was the victim of a criminal act, it failed to take appropriate technical and organisational steps to protect its supporters’ personal data.

The ICO considered this to be a serious contravention of Principle 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998. This states that appropriate technical and organisational measures must be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data.

“Our investigation determined that it is likely that the religious belief of the 417,000 supporters could be inferred, and the distress this kind of breach can cause cannot be underestimated,” said Steve Eckersley, Head of Enforcement at the ICO.

“The Bible Society failed to protect a significant amount of personal data, and exposed its supporters to possible financial or identity fraud. Organisations [of all kinds] need to have strong security measures in place to make it as difficult as possible for intruders.”

The Society has taken ‘substantial remedial action’ since it became aware of the attack, and has fully co-operated with the investigation, the ICO added.