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Media – Data breach hits Bible Society

August 2018

The British and Foreign Bible Society (Bible Society) has been fined £100,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), after the society’s computer network was compromised as the result of a cyber-attack in 2016.

In a statement issued by the ICO, between November and December 2016 the intruders exploited a weakness in the Society’s network to access the personal data of 417,000 of the Society’s supporters.

For a subset of these supporters, some payment card and bank account details were placed at risk. The Society, which translates and distributes the Bible in the UK and around the world, relies on card donations from its UK supporters. However, supporters’ details were kept on an insufficiently secured internal network, and in 2009 the Society created a service account on the same network.

The ICO statement said: ‘This account, which was configured in such a way as to provide inappropriate remote access rights to the network, was only secured with an easy-to-guess password. The attackers deployed ransomware, and while the society’s data was not permanently damaged or rendered inaccessible by the encryption, the attackers were able to transfer some files out of the network’.

The fine was meted out under the 1998 Data Protection Act (not the new General Data Protection Act, which came into force on 25 May this year). Commenting on the fine, Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement for the ICO, said: ‘The Bible Society failed to protect a significant amount of personal data, and exposed its supporters to possible financial or identity fraud.

‘Our investigation determined that it is likely the religious belief of the 417,000 supporters could be inferred, and the distress this kind of breach can cause cannot be underestimated’.

He acknowledged that cyber-attacks will happen, but warned organisations to have strong security measures in place, to make it ‘as difficult as possible for intruders’. The ICO said Bible Society has taken substantial remedial action since it became aware of the attack and has fully co-operated with the ICO’s investigation.