Cyber Attacks: Why Cyber Security is more important now than ever

Amanda LeiuCyber security continues to be headline-grabbing news, particularly in light of the global “ransomware” cyber attack which recently hit the NHS, Telefónica and FedEx. The ransomware reportedly encrypted data on over 300,000 computers in some 150 countries, with hackers threatening to delete data unless a ransom was paid. This latest attack is reported to be the biggest online extortion scheme ever.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issued a statement in response to the latest cyber attack to reiterate that “all organisations are required under the Data Protection Act to keep people’s personal data safe and secure.

Whilst concerns about cyber related risks and data security are not new, the issue is becoming ever more pressing for businesses, not least because of the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in May 2018.

The cyber threat

The recent global ransomware attack which hit 47 NHS trusts is not an isolated case. The UK government’s 2017 Cyber Security Breaches Survey found that:

  • over two thirds of large firms and SMEs detected a cyber security breach or attack in the last 12 months;
  • in the last year, the average business identified 998 breaches; and
  • for a large firm, the average cost to the business as a result of a breach is £19,600.[1]

These statistics highlight the fact that cyber attacks are a growing area of risk for businesses. Generally, more businesses are migrating into digital form and on globally interconnected technology platforms. As this trend continues, businesses’ exposure to a cyber attack inevitably increases.

The threat is no longer limited to large organisations. Smaller organisations have not historically been the target of cybercrime but this position has changed in recent years. SMEs are now being targeted by cyber criminals and with increasing frequency.

The consequences  

The consequences of a cyber attack can be multiple and far-reaching: disrupted business systems, regulatory fines, compensation claims, reputational damage and loss of consumer trust.

The legal implications in relation to cyber and data security arise primarily from the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). The DPA requires organisations to take appropriate technical and organisational security measures to prevent unauthorised or unlawful processing or accidental loss of or destruction or damage to personal data. Under the DPA, the ICO can impose fines of up to £500,000 for breach of this obligation. This is set to dramatically escalate under the GDPR to an upper limit of €20 million or 4% or annual global turnover – whichever is greater.

If appropriate measures have not been taken to keep peoples’ personal data secure and a cyber security breach occurs, organisations risk leaving themselves open to a fine or other enforcement action. This was the case with TalkTalk as discussed in our earlier article “The Only Way is Up – Fining Powers on the Increase for Data Protection Breaches” (21 March 2017). The ICO issued more than £1,000,000 in fines last year for breaches of the DPA. Moreover, personal data owners may seek compensation from organisations for such breaches.

The challenge of compliance with data protection laws is set to potentially increase and become more onerous under the GDPR. The GDPR will supersede the DPA and introduces new and extended obligations for organisations.

Businesses will be legally required to report data breaches that pose a risk to individuals to ICO within 72 hours and in some cases to the individuals affected. Data processors will also have direct obligations in relation to data security for the first time. Another key change is around accountability – the GDPR creates an onus on companies to demonstrate compliance with the data protection principles and put in place comprehensive governance measures.

Mitigating the risks – what should you be doing?

In light of the risks highlighted, it is more essential than ever that organisations protect themselves (and therefore, by extension their consumers), from increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks.

To minimise the risk of a cyber attack and ensure regulatory compliance with the current DPA and the incoming GDPR, businesses should be looking to take the following steps:

  • generate awareness within your organisation;
  • set up a project team with full board engagement;
  • carry out a data inventory and mapping exercise to understand what data you have, what you use it for, where it is held and what third parties are involved in processing data;
  • carry out a gap analysis to work out what compliance steps are needed;
  • review all relevant policies, procedures and contracts;
  • undertake a data privacy impact assessment, if needed;
  • prioritise and scope out a cyber security incident response plan;
  • implement and rehearse the cyber security incident response plan; and
  • train staff, monitor processes, audit and adjust.

[1]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/609186/Cyber_Security_Breaches_Survey_2017_main_report_PUBLIC.pdf (pg. 8)

 

Amanda Leiu is a trainee solicitor in the Commerce & Technology team at Fox Williams LLP.

Tricky issues with use of employee data

Helen Farr
Helen Farr

Employers cannot manage the employment relationship without using their employees’ data. Data is used by employers on a daily basis for a variety of tasks ranging from monitoring sickness absence, administering benefits to paying salary using payroll.

To process this data lawfully most employers rely on provisions in the employment contract authorising them to do so.‎ However, employers need to be aware that simply including a provision in a contract may not be enough if the employer is using a specific class of data; sensitive personal data.

Sensitive personal data includes data about an employee’s health, sexuality, diversity and political beliefs. To use this data lawfully employers need the employee’s express consent to do so.

Problems can arise for employers in a number of situations where they need to use sensitive personal data.

A common problem area is when a referral ‎is made to a company’s occupational health team for an opinion and prognosis on an employee’s health problems. There are two main components to occupational health records: transferable information and the confidential clinical record. Transferable information is information that is generally accessible by the employer, the employee and enforcing bodies like the HSE – it includes information about accidents at work, monitoring data and exposure to hazards. The confidential clinical record is specific to the employee and his or her health during employment. This is sensitive personal data.

‎When the referral is made to Occupational Health it must be made with the employee’s consent. However, relying on consent may not be enough to protect the employer from a claim.

Employers must ensure that when they make a request for a medical report from Occupational Health the request is focussed and limited to the purposes for which consent is obtained.

They also need to make sure that any medical information provided to Occupational Health is focused. It is common practice for HR practitioners making the referral to send all sickness records they have about the employee. But what if the employee has suffered various health problems over the years, including conditions that the employee would not necessarily want his or her line manager or the wider business to know about? If the Occupational Health report refers to these historical conditions there could be claims by the disgruntled employee.

The consent that has been obtained is unlikely to be enough to protect the employer from a claim. Potential claims include a breach of the employee’s right to privacy and breach of the Data Protection Act. The issue could also lead to claims of discrimination. Therefore employers should not complacently rely on the consent received when requesting a report but must properly consider the ‎particular purposes for which the report is needed.

Our experience is most businesses do not send a copy of the Occupational Health referral to the employee. Best practice must be to do so. This will avoid any potential problem when the employee reads a report containing lots of historical medical information ; it makes it difficult for them to claim they did not agree to it being referred to.

Another potential problem area is the use of sensitive personal data about an employee’s sexual orientation. Many large employers have relationship at work policies obliging their employees to disclose information about romantic relationships with work colleagues. Of course this policy applies to same sex relationships.

Again the problem employers often omit to consider is how that information is used. The business justification for disclosure of a relationship with a work colleague is to enable the employer to ensure that the parties to the relationship do not either benefit or suffer because of it. Sometimes employers post information about the existence of a relationship with a colleague on their intranet.

What the policy authors overlook is that the employer needs express consent to process information about sexuality which of course this is. Therefore posting such information on the company’s intranet, unless the employee expressly consents to this, will be a clear breach of the Data Protection Act. There may also be claims for discrimination if the employee suffers less favourable treatment following publication of the information.

Employers therefore need to take care when relying on policies that allow them to use data. If the data concerned is sensitive personal data reliance on the policy is not enough to protect them from claims.

 

Helen Farr is a Partner in the HR Law team at Fox Williams LLP and can be contacted at HFarr@foxwilliams.com.