A press release from the ICO:
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is warning organisations that they must make sure their websites are protected against one of the most common forms of online attack – known as SQL injection.
The warning comes after the hotel booking website, Worldview Limited, was fined £7,500 following a serious data breach where a vulnerability on the company’s site allowed attackers to access the full payment card details of 3,814 customers.
The data was accessed after the attacker exploited a flaw on a page of the Worldview website to access the company’s customer database. Although customers’ payment details had been encrypted, the means to decrypt the information – known as the decryption key – was stored with the data. This oversight allowed the attackers to access the customers’ full card details, including the three digit security code needed to authorise payment.
The weakness had existed on the website since May 2010 and was only uncovered during a routine update on 28 June 2013. The attackers had access to the information for ten days. The company has now corrected the flaw and have invested in improving their IT security systems.
Worldview Limited would have received a £75,000 penalty but the ICO was required to consider the company’s financial situation.
Simon Rice, ICO Group Manager for Technology, said:
It may come as a surprise to many in the IT security industry that this type of attack is still allowed to occur. SQL injection attacks are preventable but organisations need to spend the necessary time and effort to make sure their website isn’t vulnerable. Worldview Limited failed to do this, allowing the card details of over three thousand customers to be compromised.
“Organisations must act now to avoid one of the oldest hackers’ tricks in the book. If you don’t have the expertise in-house, then find someone who does, otherwise you may be the next organisation on the end of an ICO fine and the reputational damage that results from a serious data breach.”
Simon has written a blog explaining how an SQL injection attack works and how organisations can protect themselves from it. The ICO has also published a report explaining how organisations can protect themselves from SQL attacks and the other common IT security failings uncovered during its recent investigations.
The monetary penalty notice provides a fairly detailed description of how the breach occurred. There were no reports of actual fraudulent use of consumers’ payment card information, and the ICO notes:
Although there is no evidence of fraud having taken place as a result of this incident, the personal data that was obtained was clearly of interest to the attacker given the targeted nature of the attack, and could still be used for fraudulent purposes. It is reasonable to assume therefore that it is likely that the attacker would use this information in a manner that would cause substantial damage to the data subjects either in the short or long term.
The data subjects would also be likely to suffer from substantial distress on being informed that their personal data had been accessed by an unauthorised third party and could have been further disclosed even though, so far as the Commissioner is aware, there has been no evidence of fraudulent transactions being conducted as a result of this incident. The knowledge of this access alone is likely to cause substantial distress.
The penalty, then, is based on inadequate technical safeguards that included failures in:
- Providing relevant training for developers in security matters and providing sufficient oversight and checking of their work,
- Sufficiently testing the security of a new web page,
- Ensuring and checking that that the default password was changed for the WordPress administrator account, and
- Keeping the decryption keys secure and separate from the data itself.