The Most Omnishambolic Data Blunders of Recent Years

Posted: October 29, 2013 in Articles
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New Vulnerabilities

Data and security breaches

Data and security breaches have become a common occurrence in our increasingly digital lives.

Security analysts generally agree that when it comes to secure data transfer the most vulnerable part of the chain is the human element, and whilst Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange’s cavalcade of governmental leaks has made gripping and enlightening news over the past few years, there have been countless other losses of data which, although not as world shattering, have left CEOs, politicians and news editors red in the face.

As the term “omnishambles” (coined by BBC political satire The Thick of It writer Tony Roche) officially entered the OED in August, I think it’s high-time we take this delightful portmanteau out for a stroll and investigate the data blunders that were disastrous from all perspectives.

MoD Security Kerfuffle

In a string of UK government data losses in 2007 and 2008, the Ministry of Defence’s main IT contractor EDS lost a hard drive containing some 1,700,000 records. These contained army, navy and RAF personnel’s names, addresses, passport numbers, and driving licence details, as well as numerous bank account details. Furthermore, next-of-kin details and potential recruits’ names and information were also lost.

What’s more, after the loss the MoD was forced to admit that over the past four years 658 laptops and 36 memory sticks had been stolen or misplaced, putting the potential data loss far beyond the figures reported above.

So prolific was the ineptitude of UK governmental staff handling data in 2007 and 2008 that it was parodied in a 2009 episode of The Thick of It, in which fictional government department DoSAC (Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship) loses a USB containing several years’ worth of immigration figures.

Serious Fraud Office is Seriously Embarrassed

After a six-year investigation into BAE Systems’ questionable defence contracts in Saudi Arabia, Tanzania and South Africa, the defence giant was fined over £30 million in UK courts alone for failing to keep adequate accounts. It was a major coup for the SFO.

However, a recent gaffe has left the SFO looking rather awkward. Some 32,000 documents and 81 audio files relating to its investigation of BAE were lost between May and October 2012. These materials were used by SFO to build its case against BAE, and once the battle had been won they were supposed to be returned to their rightful owners. Unfortunately there were a few crossed wires at the SFO as materials destined for other homes ended up in the wrong hands.

Whilst no data compromising national security was lost, the fact that this blunder came so soon after a historic court for the SFO has understandably soured their victory.

The Daily Mail Tastes its Own Medicine

“Huge data blunder”, “Fiasco” and even “MIND-BLOWING INCOMPETENCE” are some of the terms the Daily Mail has used to describe various UK data leaks over the years, regularly citing how the government’s omnishambolic handling of sensitive documents and data puts its readership and the nation at risk.

It was with some embarrassment, then, that in 2008, Daily Mail publishers Associated Newspapers had to admit to the loss of a laptop containing thousands of staff and freelancers’ bank account details, addresses and names.

Only two months prior, the Daily Mail had criticised “blundering banks” for losing the details of their clients, and several months before this they had dubbed an NHS data loss “criminally careless”. A slice of humble pie for the Associated Newspapers, then.

The Case of Cameron’s Case

You’d think that with the huge backlash that government bodies and corporations receive from the media surrounding the loss of private materials that at least the man in charge would have the good sense to keep his eye on the ball. Surely, our country’s glorious leader couldn’t make such blunders. Right?

Not so, as PM David Cameron was short-sighted enough to reportedly leave his ministerial red box unattended on a train headed from London to Yorkshire, get this, with the key still in the lock!

Although governmental types were quick to dispel this gaffe as entirely erroneous, one passenger clearly reported that he saw the box there unattended. Seeing as Mr Cameron was obviously coached in first-class, it seems unlikely that this witness was a scruffy ne’er do well and may well have had an opportunity to leaf through the sensitive documents.

Whether it’s true or not, Mr Cameron taking his eye of his briefcase was enough to cause an embarrassing media storm, highlighting that even the tiniest data misstep will have repercussions.

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