ICO reveals 400% increase in reports of cyber-security incidents

News by Tom Reeve

There was a massive jump of over 400 percent in the number of data breaches reported to the ICO which were classified as 'cyber incidents' following GDPR coming into force.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has reported a 400 percent increase in cyber-security incidents being disclosed to it following the implementation of GDPR.

In the period from April to June 2018 (Q1 of the current government financial year), there were 414 reports of "cyber-incidents" made to the ICO from various industries. This compares to 97 in the previous quarter and is also a significant jump over the previous two years’ reports.

Meanwhile, in the broader category of data security, the ICO said that in Q1 there were 3,146 incidents, a rise of 228 percent compared to 957 in the preceding quarter. This increase coincides with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force which mandates that all incidents be reported to the ICO within 72 hours.

In August, it was revealed that the ICO had received 6,281 complaints between 25 May (the day the GDPR came into force) and 3 July, a 160 percent increase on the same period the year before, reinforcing concerns that GDPR would lead to overreporting.

Tony Pepper, CEO at Egress Software Technologies, noted that most of the data breach incidents can be traced to failure of people, processes and policy. Some 65 percent of the data incidents, or just over 2,000, were the result of ‘incorrect disclosure of data’ compared to the 414 that were due to cyber-security incidents.

The top three sectors for data breaches in general were health (677 incidents), general business (453) and education (415). However, it’s notable that when looking at cyber-security incidents, the health sector reported a scant 12 incidents compared to general business (129 cyber incidents), finance/insurance (58) and education (56).

Analysing the data by type of attack, it’s clear that phishing (165 incidents) dominates the attack vectors, followed by the rather unspecific category of "unauthorised access" (104) and malware (58). It’s not clear from the statistics to what degree these incident types are linked as they often go together.

Fines in the current quarter for cyber-security incidents included:

  • £325,000 against the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for the loss of unencrypted DVDs containing police interviews

  • £250,000 against Yahoo! UK following a cyber-attack in November 2014

  • £120,000 against the University of Greenwich following a security breach which affected the personal data of 20,000 people

  • £80,000 against Gloucestershire Police for revealing the identities of abuse victims in a bulk email

  • £100,000 against the British and Foreign Bible Society following a cyber-attack in 2016.

All of these fines were levied under the Data Protection Act 1998 and not the GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018.

"Organisations should take a user-centric approach to data security, ensuring that every employee is as security savvy as they need to be," Pepper said.

A survey conducted by Egress found that 20 percent of employees were still using insecure channels to share data and a similar number did not know what kinds of personal information should be protected when sharing data via email.

"Today, the user is the only constant within organisations and by taking a user-centric approach and equipping staff to handle personal data – through technology that supports and secures the work they do, as well as more training and awareness – companies will be better placed to close the gap in their compliance programme," Pepper said. 

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