ICO issues warning over SQL injection flaws as travel firm fined £7,500

Losing patience

The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has warned organisations to wise up on SQL injection flaws after fining a travel firm for a serious data breach caused by the issue.

The cautionary tale is Worldview Ltd, which suffered an SQL vulnerability that allowed hackers to plunder the full payment card details of 3,814 of its customers in a ten day period leading up to 28 June 2013.

Discovered during what was described as a "routine update", the issue had remained undiscovered on the firm's website since May 2010, the ICO said.

Although the card numbers and three-digit security CVV codes were encrypted, the decryption key for these was stored with the data, a serious blunder that resulted in a £7,500 fine being issued.

The ICO also found that the firm allowed weak default WordPress passwords to remain unchanged in its admin system, allowing the hackers to crack it. It was this access that allowed the attackers to change templates to make exploiting the SQL flaw easier.

"There was a lack of relevant training in security matters for developers and insufficient oversight and checking of their work," said the ICO in its published judgement.

Given the seriousness of the oversights, it is arguable that the fine is pretty lenient. The firm's small size might explain this.

"It may come as a surprise to many in the IT security industry that this type of attack is still allowed to occur," said ICO group manager for technology, Simon Rice.

"SQL injection attacks are preventable but organisations need to spend the necessary time and effort to make sure their website isn't vulnerable. Worldview Limited failed to do this, allowing the card details of over three thousand customers to be compromised.

"Organisations must act now to avoid one of the oldest hackers' tricks in the book. If you don't have the expertise in-house, then find someone who does, otherwise you may be the next organisation on the end of an ICO fine and the reputational damage that results from a serious data breach," he warned.

It's not the first time the ICO has got shirty about this particular flaw, which along with poor patching was mentioned earlier this year in a best practice campaign as one of the top security flaws UK organisations were failing to address.

Earlier this year, the ICO also fined another travel firm £150,000 for exposing customer details after another SQL flaw. That case was far more serious because the number of records involved was over a million although a significant number of them had expired.

Rice has also written a blog on the subject while the ICO has issued a more detailed analysis of SQL vulnerabilities in a separate guide.

SQL weaknesses were only one part of the problem in the latest incident.

"As this case demonstrates, unmanaged encryption keys can pose a critical risk to data," commented Vormetric vice president EMEA, Paul Ayers.

"Encryption keys are an indispensable element in the delivery of IT services. As such, they need to not only be stored securely but also be tracked, managed and reported on with strong separation of duties."

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