The University of Greenwich fined £120,000 by Information Commissioner for “serious” security breach
The University of Greenwich has been fined £120,000 by the Information Commissioner following a “serious” security breach involving the personal data of nearly 20,000 people – among them students and staff.
It is the first university to have been fined by the Commissioner under the existing data protection legislation (Data Protection Act 1998).
The investigation centred on a microsite developed by an academic and a student in the then devolved University’s Computing and Mathematics School, to facilitate a training conference in 2004.
After the event, the site was not subsequently closed down or secured and was compromised in 2013. In 2016 multiple attackers exploited the vulnerability of the site allowing them to access other areas of the web server.
The personal data included contact details of 19,500 people including students, staff and alumni such as names, addresses and telephone numbers. However, around 3,500 of these included sensitive data such as information on extenuating circumstances, details of learning difficulties and staff sickness records and was subsequently posted online.
Head of Enforcement at the ICO, Steve Eckersley, said:
”Whilst the microsite was developed in one of the University’s departments without its knowledge, as a data controller it is responsible for the security of data throughout the institution.
“Students and members of staff had a right to expect that their personal information would be held securely and this serious breach would have caused significant distress. The nature of the data and the number of people affected have informed our decision to impose this level of fine.”
The Commissioner found that the University did not have in place appropriate technical and organisational measures for ensuring, so far as possible, that such a security breach would not occur, ie for ensuring that its systems could not be accessed by attackers.
Notes to Editors
If the Commissioner receives full payment of the monetary penalty by 15 June 2018, the Commissioner will reduce the monetary penalty by 20% to £96,000. However, this discount is not available if the University decides to exercise its right of appeal.
- The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
- The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
- The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit. The ICO has the power to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
- The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new law which will apply in the UK from 25 May 2018. The Government has confirmed the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR. The Government is introducing measures related to this and wider data protection reforms in a Data Protection Bill.
- Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:
- fairly and lawfully processed;
- processed for limited purposes;
- adequate, relevant and not excessive;
- accurate and up to date;
- not kept for longer than is necessary;
- processed in line with your rights;
- secure; and
- not transferred to other countries without adequate protection.
- Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
- Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
- To report a to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113, or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.