Complacency is biggest cyber risk, not hackers, Information Commissioner says

John Edwards has warned firms to better protect themselves as the ICO issues £4.4 million fine to one company for failing to protect personal data.

23 October 2022

The biggest cyber risk businesses face is from complacency, not hackers, the Information Commissioner has said as he urged firms to better protect themselves from cyber threats.

John Edwards issued the warning as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) handed down a fine of £4.4 million to Interserve Group, a Berkshire-based construction company for failing to keep personal information of staff secure – in breach of data protection law.

The ICO found that the company had failed to put appropriate security measures in place to prevent a cyber attack, which enabled hackers to access the personal data of up to 113,000 employees through a phishing email.

Mr Edwards said many businesses were still not taking cyber security seriously enough and warned companies they should “expect a similar fine from my office” if they are found to have failed to put protections in place.

“The biggest cyber risk businesses face is not from hackers outside of their company, but from complacency within their company,” the Information Commissioner said.

“If your business doesn’t regularly monitor for suspicious activity in its systems and fails to act on warnings or doesn’t update software and fails to provide training to staff, you can expect a similar fine from my office.

“Leaving the door open to cyber attackers is never acceptable, especially when dealing with people’s most sensitive information.

“This data breach had the potential to cause real harm to Interserve’s staff, as it left them vulnerable to the possibility of identity theft and financial fraud.

“Cyber attacks are a global concern and businesses around the world need to take steps to guard against complacency.

“The ICO and NCSC already work together to offer advice and support to businesses, and this week I will be meeting with regulators from around the world to work towards consistent international cyber guidance so that people’s data is protected wherever a company is based.”

The commissioner’s intervention comes after Nadhim Zahawi, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said firms must stop thinking of cyber security as “an issue just for company IT departments” and treat it as a business priority.

He warned that in the modern digital world, economic growth for the whole country would not be possible without the “economic security” that came from good cyber security practices.

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