ICO: Organisations must do more to combat the growing threat of cyber attacks

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This article is brought to you by Retail Technology Review: ICO: Organisations must do more to combat the growing threat of cyber attacks.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is calling for all organisations to boost their cyber security and protect the personal information they hold, amid the growing threat of cyber attacks.

The ICO’s own trend data reveals more organisations than ever are experiencing cyber security breaches that put people’s personal information at risk. Over 3,000 cyber breaches were reported to the ICO in 2023, with the finance (22%), retail (18%) and education (11%) sectors reporting the most incidents.

In a new report, the ICO has analysed the data breach reports it receives and shared lessons that can be learnt from common security mistakes. 

In one example, a hacker was able to penetrate a retailer’s defences and install malware on over 5,000 payment terminals – and therefore could harvest customers’ card details when they paid. On another occasion, a simple phishing email to a construction company compromised the personal information of over 100,000 people.   

The “Learning from the mistakes of others” report has practical advice to help organisations to understand common security failures and take simple steps to improve their own security, preventing future data breaches before they can happen.  

Stephen Bonner, Deputy Commissioner – Regulatory Supervision at the ICO, said: “People need to feel confident that organisations are doing as much as they possibly can to keep their personal information secure. While cyber attacks are growing more sophisticated, we find that many organisations are not responding accordingly and are still neglecting the very foundations of cyber security. 

“As the data protection regulator, we want to support and empower organisations to get this right. While there is no single solution to prevent cyber attacks, there is absolutely no excuse for not having the foundational controls in place. These are essential to protecting people’s personal information and we will take action, including fines, against organisations that are still not taking simple steps to secure their systems. 

“If you do experience a cyber attack, we always encourage transparency as your mistakes could help another organisation to avoid a similar breach.”    

The report focuses on five leading causes of cyber security breaches:  

  • Phishing – where scam messages trick the user and persuade people to share passwords or accidentally download malware. 
  • Brute force attacks - where criminals use trial and error to guess username and password combinations, or encryption keys. 
  • Denial of service – where criminals aim to stop the normal functioning of a website or computer network by overloading it.  
  • Errors – where security settings are misconfigured, including being poorly implemented, not maintained and or left on default settings.   
  • Supply chain attacks - where products, services, or technology you use are compromised and then used to infiltrate your own systems. 

For each cause, the report explains how these attacks take place, some key considerations to mitigate the risk and likely future developments. It also includes case studies from the ICO’s regulatory activities.  

If an organisation experiences a data breach as a result of a cyber attack, they should report it to the ICO within 72 hours of becoming aware of it.  
Both the ICO and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) provide a wealth of further resources to support organisations to improve their security.

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