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Alastair Revell is the Managing Consultant of Revell Research Systems, a Management and Technology Consulting Practice based at Exeter in the United Kingdom.
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The material published in this web log is for general purposes only. It does not constitute nor is it intended to represent professional advice. You should always seek specific professional advice in relation to particular issues. The information in this web log is provided "as is" with no warranties and confers no rights. The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions.

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Review Entries for Day Wednesday, June 06, 2012
There are claims circulating on the Web today, which have been reported by the BBC, stating that some six million passwords from LinkedIn have been leaked on a Russian Internet site in encrypted form.
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Wednesday, June 06, 2012 5:38:54 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Information Commissioner's fining of solicitor Andrew Jonathan Crossley is interesting in several respects and contains an important message for many small businesses.

The £1,000 fine was announced by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) today in a press release.

Mr Crossley was the owner of the law firm ACS Law, which has recently ceased trading. The firm gained widespread exposure for its aggressive pursuit of those alleged to have infringed copyright through peer-to-peer file sharing activities in recent years. It seems that many of those pursued by the firm were probably innocent and I understand that the only successful prosecutions in this matter were won by default when the defendants failed to appear in court.

In September 2010, ACS Law's web site was seriously attacked, causing it to crash. In the subsequent aftermath, a backup file containing emails between ACS Law's employees and other parties appeared on the web site, which allowed anyone to access around 6,000 people’s sensitive personal information. These emails included credit card details as well as references to people’s sex life, health and financial circumstances.

The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, has made it very clear that had ACS Law still been trading then the fine could have been as much as £200,000: "Were it not for the fact that ACS Law has ceased trading so that Mr Crossley now has limited means, a monetary penalty of £200,000 would have been imposed, given the severity of the breach".

I feel this fine is important because it shows that the ICO is prepared to fine SME organisations large amounts and is also prepared to pursue their owners in cases of serious breach where the owner is a sole trader.

The Information Commissioner stated that: "The security measures ACS Law had in place were barely fit for purpose in a person's home environment, let alone a business handling such sensitive details". I am often shocked about how poor security is at SME organisations. Many SME business leaders do not listen to advice about security matters. I am also afraid to say that many IT suppliers also do not care about security, preferring to close a sale at any cost. They often fail to make their customers aware of the risks they face, taking a view that it is the customer’s problem if they don't recognise or understand the issues at stake.

Worse still, many SME firms run their IT systems on a shoestring, avoiding professional advice wherever possible, and only bring in competent support when things really become dire.

It is clear that Mr Graham takes a rather dim view of this approach to managing a company's IT infrastructure. He makes it clear that "Mr Crossley did not seek professional advice when setting up and developing the IT system which did not include basic elements such as a firewall and access control. In addition ACS Law's web-hosting package was only intended for domestic use. Mr Crossley had received no assurances from the web-host that information would be kept secure." The Information Commissioner clearly believes that if you are going to use IT systems then you should do it properly and not on a shoestring.

If anything, this fine also highlights the importance of taking proper advice and may presage a greater use of Chartered IT Professionals.

The message must be that if you use IT in your business (whatever your firm's size), you must take proper advice, you must not try to cut corners and you must not treat IT security in a cavalier fashion.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011 4:00:10 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Friday, December 03, 2010

I was interested in what Sir Christopher Meyer (HM Ambassador to the United States between 1997 and 2003) had to say about WikiLeaks on BBC Question Time last night.

I understand from what he was saying that the United States created a massive ‘intranet’ to share intelligence from around the world between their agencies as part of their response to 11th September 2001 attacks. They wanted a clearer picture of the emerging threats to the United States.

He suggests that over two and half million people have access to this ‘intranet’ and implies that leaks were inevitable.

I feel that there is an important lesson here for any government or commercial enterprise that tries to build massive databases. The more people who have access, the more likely there is to be a leak.

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Friday, December 03, 2010 10:42:12 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Wednesday, June 02, 2010

I find it worrying that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) reports that the NHS is the United Kingdom’s worst offender in terms of keeping personal data, especially in light of the Patient Summary Care Record scheme, which will eventually hold details from most people’s medical records.

The question for me is simple: Can they be trusted to look after computerised medical records?

According to a spreadsheet accompanying the ICO’s press release of 28th May 2010, the NHS has reported more breaches than any other body to date. The data shows that these losses have largely been through either lost or stolen data/hardware rather than insecure disposal or accidental disclosure.

I agree absolutely with David Smith, the Deputy Commissioner, who said: “The ICO maintains it is essential that the protection of people’s personal information is part of organisations’ culture and DNA.”

However, the issue of data protection is clearly wider in scope than our trust in the NHS’ ability to keep our data secure.

The press release actually marks the 1,000th breach reported to the ICO, with the actual number now standing at 1,007. A rough calculation suggests that between one-in-two and one-in-three people in the United Kingdom have had their personal data compromised.

The ICO have said that although more personal data has been lost by the NHS, the largest ever breach reported was the loss of 25M people’s personal data by HMRC on two CDs in November 2007.

However, the data shows that the second largest offender collectively is the private sector, which doesn’t surprise me. Worse still, I suspect that most private sector breaches probably go unreported, so this figure might be the tip of the iceberg.

The ICO is keen to remind organisations that it can now levy fines of up to £500,000 per breach.

If you would like to know more about the new powers the Information Commissioner acquired in April 2010 and what the outcome might be should you be reckless with personal data then you might like to read my recent blog on data protection!

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010 3:56:23 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Friday, May 28, 2010
I welcome the two IT related bills in the Queen’s Speech. The Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill will limit the amount of time that the DNA profiles of innocent people in England and Wales can be held on the national database and will adopt the Scottish model. This seems to be much more proportionate than holding a blanket database of everyone’s DNA, which was where we seemed to be heading at one point. I believe that this would have led to all sorts of problems in the future. I think that this bill now strikes the right balance between bring criminals to justice and ensuring the privacy and freedom of innocent people.
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Friday, May 28, 2010 8:46:40 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I imagine that 21st April 2010 will be a day that McAfee will remember for sometime to come and probably one they would much prefer to forget!

The antivirus vendor issued its daily security update DAT5958 at 06:00 PDT (GMT-7), but by 13:00 BST (GMT+1) the update was wreaking havoc on many corporate networks in the United Kingdom, let alone the rest of the world!

The update affected Windows XP machines with Service Pack 3 applied, falsely detecting the svchost.exe file as Win32/wecorl.a. The vendor’s VirusScan product essentially prevented the svchost.exe file from running, causing Windows to endlessly reboot in many cases.

McAfee acted fairly quickly by pulling the affected virus definition file (DAT5958) from their download servers, preventing more customers from becoming involved in what must be one of the worst update issues to impact corporate networks for some time.

They released DAT5959 to replace the affected virus definition file at around 10:15 PDT (GMT-7).

This incident comes on the back of reports that many modern anti-virus products are failing to detect malware. I’ve just been reviewing Cyveillance’s February 2010 Cyber Intelligence Report, which suggests McAfee detects around 37% of emerging threats on a daily basis (based on data from the last half of 2009). Kaspersky came out on top with a daily detection rate of 38%, but many were much poorer - such as Symantec on 25%.

The time for relying on straight-forward anti-virus products seems to be coming to an end…

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010 8:34:45 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I suspect many businesses and probably most members of the general public are unaware that the fees for notification under the Data Protection Act 1998 were changed with effect from 1st October 2009. The change was made through The Data Protection (Notification and Notification Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2009 Statutory Instrument 2009/1677 laid before Parliament by Michael Willis, Minister of State in the Ministry of Justice, on 6th July 2009.

The annual notification fee has been £35 for all data controllers, regardless of their size, since 2000. However, from 1st October 2009, two-tiers of fees have been in force.
Essentially, small and medium sized-organisations with fewer than 250 employees or less than £25.9M turnover continue to pay £35 annually and are now defined as “Tier 1” organisations. All other bodies (including any public authorities defined in the 1998 act) will now fall into “Tier 2” and must pay £500 annually.
I think the general public have come to realise over the last couple of years just how important their data is and how easily it can be lost by cavalier organisations (including government departments!)
I welcome the change in the fee structure provided the extra funds taken are used to increase the Information Commissioner’s capability to ensure all of our private data is kept more securely by those with whom it is entrusted and that those who flagrantly breach the rules are brought to task.
Many businesses see the current fee as a stealth tax and I suspect a good number of the general public too. However, I hope with the increased funding that the Information Commissioner will be seen to be doing more to actively protect the public from cavalier data controllers by everybody.
These fee increases have been introduced ahead of new powers that will come into effect in April 2010 that will allow the Information Commissioner to fine people and organisations that recklessly breach any of the eight principles that underpin the act.
These new powers were introduced as part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, but will only come into force in April 2010.  The Information Commissioner will only be able to fine data controllers when one or more of the eight principles have been seriously breached in cases where the breach was deliberate, or where the controller knew (or ought to have known) that the risk of such a breach was likely to cause substantial damage or distress; and the controller failed to take action to stop it.
Hopefully, these new teeth will work in tandem with the new funding to ensure all of our personal data is kept much more safely.
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010 4:21:41 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Just a quick update to my earlier blog regarding the problems currently being faced by the University of Exeter. It seems the virus is exploiting known flaws in the Microsoft Vista and Microsoft Server 2008 platforms.

Zack Whittacker, who blogs for ZDNet, has a source inside the university here in Exeter. Apparently, the virus is mainly targeting Vista SP2 machines and the IT staff at the university are trying to use patch MS09-050 to reduce the attack surface.

It is understood that this virus has not been seen outside of the Exeter campus, but clearly demonstrates the disruption that a carefully crafted attack can cause.

There is a suggestion in Whittacker's blog that some critical patches had not been applied (using the Microsoft System Update Service).

We strongly believe that machines should regularly be checked to ensure that patches that should have been applied, actually have been applied. If the loop is not closed in this manner then these sorts of problems are eventually inevitable.

We are concerned that many SMEs, who often do not patch properly, may be at considerable risk if this virus escapes the Exeter campus.

In addition, I remain concerned about the zero-day virus threat. A virus that spreads quickly and easily such as this one, that exploits a flaw such as the one in Internet Explorer that saw Google hacked in China, with a drive-by infection capability on a site such as any of the international versions of Google would lead to huge economic disruption across the globe.

For starters, many people set Google as their home page, so in this apocalyptic scenario, they would be infected and spreading such a virus internally inside the organisational firewall without detection or defence the moment they went online...

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010 9:11:14 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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It seems that the University of Exeter is currently in the middle of a major virus outbreak, which has led to their IT team shutting down the entire campus network, including their telephone system in an attempt to contain the problem.

The attack appears to have started on Monday. The campus network was shutdown at around 2:00pm as a direct response to the threat. However, the problems seem to be continuing today (Wednesday).

The university’s home page suggests that staff and students are only able to access email externally using home computers and the like.

The communications advice issued by the university says that it “is currently experiencing a severe IT incident, and as a precautionary measure we’ve taken much of our network offline. Parts of the University are being brought back online today as soon as it is safe to do so. The University switchboard is online and can accept calls, but we are unable to transfer them to some affected areas of the University.”

Sources in Exeter suggest that the virus has not been identified, but it is thought that the university was deliberately targeted. Stuart Franklin, a spokesman for the university, speaking to the local evening paper, the Express & Echo, said: “We were attacked by a virus. It was a malicious attack. It is the first time I have known such an attack to succeed.”

It seems clear that this virus is extremely virulent and has managed to spread quickly and easily. This strongly suggests that it managed to circumvent the university’s antivirus systems and may have been akin to a zero-day virus.

Although a difficult decision, I believe that closing down the infrastructure in such circumstances is the right thing to do.

This incident should provide food for thought for many organisations. The cost of closing down a network is extremely expensive in terms of lost revenue and opportunities, even before the sheer amount of professional time spent checking systems and returning them to service is taken into consideration.

In fact, this sort of attack can cause immense damage to an organisation and is relatively easy to perpetrate, which has not escaped the notice of Lloyd’s of London Emerging Risks Team in their October 2009 report: ‘Digital Risks: Views of a Changing Risk Landscape’. The report states that “The value of data can vary enormously, but for some organisations it could mean bankruptcy.”

The interesting aspect to this attack is that the university believes it was “hit by the virus deliberately”.

I think we may see an increase in this sort of attack in the future. The recession has been very deep and many people with criminal intent and technical capability across the world may turn to cyber-crime.

In the first two weeks of January, we’ve seen the national governments of France and Germany warn their citizens about security flaws in Internet Explorer after an attack on Google’s site in China (along with some 20 other organisations), which Microsoft admitted late last week were part of the attack mechanism. The code that exploits these particular flaws were published on Monday, 18th January 2010 and there are already some reports of it being used maliciously.

Although the problems at the University of Exeter and the issues with Internet Explorer are probably not connected, the trend for increased, malicious attacks is clear. 

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010 5:02:17 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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