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by Laura Spencer Laura Spencer No Comments

Diary of a Fraud Victim: Lessons for Apple Pay Users

You may have seen the recent press coverage surrounding people who have fallen victim to fraud; Ofcom’s recently published research – almost 45 million cases – during summer 2021 alone!

You never think that it will be you. As someone, who would like to think that they are well versed when it comes to spotting a phishing link, I was surprised, to find pending transactions on my account with purchases that I had not made.

Ultimately there is the inevitable wave of panic. Trying to rationalise what has happened – going back through my previous purchases just to check that there had not been a mistake made. Then going through my phone and checking websites that I have used; emails I have received as well as text messages.

It was here that I realised my mistake. I had received a text message from my mobile service provider, asking me to update my payment details. Typically, this type of message about changing payment information would fly red flags. However, this text came through under my previous legitimate SMS chain, seemingly under the same number with my provider. Therefore, I clicked the link in the message, proceeding to resubmit my personal details. At the time, although cautious the link seemed to work legitimately. Despite this, I set a reminder to call my provider on Monday morning in order to double check that the details had been received correctly.

Unfortunately, I had fallen for a scam…

If it were you, you see a message from your service provider, asking for an update of information – from a SMS chain, which had been used before – what would you do? Would you hesitate or stop to think whether the message was indeed genuinely from the provider?

I received the ‘pending transaction’ alert from my banking app, I tried to report the pending transactions, however, it was still unclear as to the next steps. I received a call from a ‘no caller ID’ number, which naively, I answered. It sounded legitimate, they seemed to be telling me all of the things that I wanted to hear, but nonetheless I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being scammed for a second time. I eventually put the phone down mid conversation in order to ring my bank directly, after researching online my banking guidelines for such situations.

The advice from NCSC in such a situation is to: ‘Go back to something you can trust. Visit the official website, log in to your account, or phone their advertised phone number. Don’t use the links or contact details in the message you have been sent or given over the phone.’ (https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/suspicious-email-actions). This advice, published on the NCSC website offers guidance to both those affected by scam artists as well as acting as a prevention.

Thankfully, calling the number my bank advised for dealing with fraud, they had already flagged my account for some unknown purchases and therefore, they were aware of the situation prior to my call. While the unexplained ‘no caller ID’ is believed to have been my bank however, even they were unclear if this had been the case due to the nature of the call and the messages that I had received seemingly from them.

The legitimate call with the bank helped me to arrange voice ID on my banking transaction to ensure that this did not happen again. They equally transferred me to an additional line, to speak to the right department in order to. I would encourage everyone to take the time to set up voice recognition with their bank in order to aid the prevention of situations like this from happening.

After which,  I was transferred to my bank’s fraud department who took me through some basic questions such as:

  • When was YOUR last transaction and for how much?
  • Has anyone had access to your card or bank details, this could be a family member or a carer,
  • Are you still in possession of your card?
  • Do you use Apple Pay?
  • Which devices do you use Apple Pay on?

While there were many other questions asked in order to gauge the situation, these were a few of the most memorable. What struck me as interesting was the fact that the questions were asked about Apple Pay, the platform while popular and typically very secure ‘Apple Pay is a very secure way to make payments. This is because your card numbers are not stored on your device, and are never shared by Apple Pay, or sent with your payment. Instead, Apple Pay gives you a unique Device Account Number, that’s encrypted and stored in a secure part of your iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch. So, when you use Apple Pay, your Device Account Number and a specially created security code are used to process your payment.’ (https://www.barclaycard.co.uk/personal/help/contactless-payments/secure-applePay) As it turns out there had been a separate account set up using my personal details, with the code mentioned above.

While on the phone the bank informed me that over the weekend, there had been tens of thousands of reports of phishing from mobile phone providers – this specific attack was on Apple iPhone users. This is because when the fraudulent messages were sent, they were automatically filtered into what seemed legitimate messages from providers. Hence, many, including myself, believed that the link circulated was genuine.

Thankfully I had caught the transactions early and my bank will be able to refund me the money that had been taken while also closing down the Apple Pay account that had been created using my details. Additionally, I will be sent a new card, with new banking details as well as being instructed to carefully watch my account over the next few days – reporting any changes to my account. Alongside this I was sent some useful advice for the future.

This was resolved mainly because I had my pending transactions set up on my account to receive a notification whenever my transactions were being processed. This means that whenever money is ____ my account I am ‘pinged’ with a notification and made aware regarding any payments in my account. I would strongly recommend to anyone who does not check their bank frequently to ensure that such notifications have been set up – otherwise for me, there may have been a very different outcome to this experience.

Lessons to be learned:

  1. People should be aware that phishing is becoming more and more evolved, exacerbated by the pandemic. While this seems like the obvious warning, estimates from the Telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales (‘TCSEW’) showed that there were 4.6 million fraud offences in the year ending March 2021, a 24% increase compared with the year ending March 2019 (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/crimeinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2021). Demonstrating that despite advice given out, people are still being ‘scammed’.
  • Apple users need to be more cautious when receiving unexpected messages – since messages can be auto filled into seemingly legitimate contact numbers, already on your phone. In my experience this came in the form of my mobile service provider. To prevent this from happening Apple have produced an update where you can filter and block unknown messages (to find out more https://support.apple.com/en-gb/guide/iphone/iph203ab0be4/ios) which may help people avoid possible phishing messages.

by Laura Spencer Laura Spencer No Comments

Routed in the Past

Passwords, every 2 or 3 months they should be changed or adjusted slightly in order to keep your password protected account/device secure. So why do we not change our Wi-Fi password for our router? Most of us will still be using the awkwardly long password written on the back of our router or on a card, and not think twice about changing it.  In reality we should probably be changing this password as soon as we can, and then regularly modifying it to keep a secure network.

The complacency that we approach our router security with is quite frankly appalling – it  is so easy for an individual with malicious intentions to hack into a router. Particularly when working from home networks which are not designed for intensive business use. Throughout the  pandemic, working from home has been a necessity for millions of people  working in business of all shapes and sizes, however, the reality of the scenario is that our Wi-Fi routers are vulnerable and we need to adapt them in order to make them less susceptible to hacking as well as other security risks.

With lockdowns and COVID restrictions slowly coming to an end its foreseeable that more and more visitors will be coming into your home. And what is the first thing that most ask?

“What is the Wi-Fi password?”

So what?

Giving the Wi-Fi password to a visitor to your house seems so innocent and somewhat a rite of passage in this day in age. Even my grandad in his 70s asked for the Wi-Fi password when in my garden this weekend! However if working from home, individuals should perhaps consider partitioning your home Wi-Fi, one for work devices such as your computer and work phone as well as one for normal usage for both your personal devices, smart speakers, TVs, and any other internet enabled technology and keep a separate partitioned network for guests. On the same front you could also consider using a guest Wi-Fi and keeping a separate Wi-Fi for those who live with you.

The importance of outdated routers as well as router security comes after a recent report by Which? The report details problems found by its lab during extensive tests.

The main concerns highlighted by the report include:

  • Weak default passwords cyber-criminals could hack were found on most of the routers
  • A lack of firmware updates, important for security and performance
  • A network vulnerability with EE’s Brightbox 2, which could give a hacker full control of the device

The UK Government plans to ban default passwords being pre-set on devices, as part of upcoming legislation covering smart devices. This would come under the UK’s Internet of Things (‘IoT’) ‘Security by Design’ law. The law is aimed at enhancing the security of consumer devices, this comes after the government introduction of a security code of practice for IoT device manufacturers back in 2018 – with the forthcoming legislation intending to build on that with a set of legally binding requirements. This therefore would encourage the individual to keep their device and network more secure – similarly in highlighting it in such report as this and equally solidifying it in legislation will aid the public’s understanding of the importance of keeping a secure home network.

The ‘Security by Design’ law is also planning to make manufacturers:

  • Tell customers for how long their device will receive security-software updates
  • Provide a public point of contact to make it simpler for anyone to report a vulnerability

This will enable individuals to have greater access to information and help in regards to their device security.

by Laura Spencer Laura Spencer No Comments

Pandemic Business Boom: Website Blunders

Living in the 21st Century it is increasingly easy for individuals to start their own businesses, especially during the pandemic new businesses have risen to around 407,510 new businesses were formed during this period (according to SKY news https://news.sky.com/story/covid-19-record-number-of-new-businesses-predicted-as-uk-comes-out-of-coronavirus-lockdown-12236841). However when it comes to marketing and advertising for your brand there are a few key points which need to be considered.

The first being what sort of platform are you going to use to build your website?

It is common and only natural to see an advertisement of a company on the TV or see an advert online which uses fancy advertising with offices around the world. However, often the knee jerk reaction is ‘this must be a good company, look at how well advertised they are’ and therefore you make the decision to build your platform using their platform and tools. This is not always the case. The most important aspect when looking to build an online presence is the legal and regulatory compliance of the platform. Read through their privacy policy in detail; read through their terms and conditions and then decide whether you think that they are in fact compliant – you would be surprised as to what the platforms that  spend money on advertising on the TV and online hide in regards to their compliance, or potentially lack of it. Recently we have been working for a client which has been using one of the highly advertised sites as his website platform and going through his website compliance documents raised too many red flags to ignore – hence the inspiration for this post!

In this case there were a few major red flags.

  • Their storage limitation (data retention)
  • Their data minimisation
  • Their server base location

Starting with the storage limitation of our client’s website provider; the Information Commissioner’s Office (‘ICO’) directs companies and organisations:

  • You must not keep personal data for longer than you need it.
  • You need to think about – and be able to justify – how long you keep personal data. This will depend on your purposes for holding the data.
  • You need a policy setting standard retention periods wherever possible, to comply with documentation requirements.
  • You should also periodically review the data you hold, and erase or anonymise it when you no longer need it.
  • You must carefully consider any challenges to your retention of data. Individuals have a right to erasure if you no longer need the data.
  • You can keep personal data for longer if you are only keeping it for public interest archiving, scientific or historical research, or statistical purposes.

The UK General Data Protection Regulation (‘GDPR’) does not dictate how long you should keep personal data for. It is up to the company or organisation to justify their retention of such data, based on their purposes for processing it. Personal data for many companies and organisations are kept for a maximum of 6 years – this is because UK statutory limitation – the period of time for which a contract could be subject to a legal dispute resulting in a court claim – is 6 years. After 6 years a transaction or contract cannot be the subject for a court case and by default many corporations destroy all such records after 6 years.

Ensuring that you erase or anonymise personal data when you no longer need it will reduce the risk that it becomes irrelevant, excessive, inaccurate or out of date. Apart from helping you to comply with the data minimisation and accuracy principles, this also reduces the risk that you will use such data in error – to the detriment of all concerned.

But why is storage limitation so important?

Personal data held for too long will, by definition, be unnecessary. You are unlikely to have a lawful basis for retention (e.g. 6 year statutory Limitation as outlined above). From a more practical perspective, it is inefficient to hold more personal data than you need, and there may be unnecessary costs associated with storage and security, either in hard copy or online. Remember that you must also respond to subject access requests for any personal data you hold. This may be more difficult if you are holding old data for longer than you need. Good practice around storage limitation – with clear policies on retention periods and erasure – is also likely to reduce the burden of dealing with queries about retention and individual requests for erasure.

Data minimisation is also covered under UK GDPR. The ICO directs companies and organisations, when processing data to ensure that the data is processed in way that are deemed:

  • adequate – sufficient to properly fulfil your stated purpose;
  • relevant – has a rational link to that purpose; and
  • limited to what is necessary – you do not hold more than you need for that purpose.

The idea of minimisation is based around companies and organisations only collecting data that they need, and is necessary. The website provider our client was using was ‘hoovering’ up information which why did not necessarily need – taking information from it’s users users. Minimisation is important because orgnisations should not be collecting more data than they need for the specific task the personal data is collected for.

Finally the server location through our client’s website provider is vague. It is important for companies and organisations to know where your data is being stored, whether the data is encrypted and if so to what standard (e.g. SSL 128- bit, TSL 256-bit). If your data is hosted with a cloud provider where the physical servers are not within the EU, then you can’t use that service unless the appropriate GDPR compliant international transfer conditions are met (adequacy, a data transfer agreement containing standard contractual clauses or binding corporate rules). These conditions are complex, hence it is helpful to know where the personal data, for which your organisation is responsible, is actually being stored. Any provider who either cannot confirm this simple information, or obfuscates when the question is asked, should be avoided. Even if they do have lots of shiny offices and a slick TV advertising campaign.   

by Laura Spencer Laura Spencer No Comments

Experian Discredited: ICO Investigation

Picture this – you are looking to buy your first house – you get your credit score checked by Experian  – you have heard of them, maybe seen some advertising on TV,  and so you go ahead. Little would you think about what Experian may be doing with your data without your knowledge/consent because there are regulations that they must follow – surely?

Experian and other credit reference agencies collect and process vast amounts of personal data in order to carry out credit checks as well as parts of their other services; ‘We gather, analyse, combine and process it to help people and organisations achieve their goals’. Yet does this mean that you as a consumer are intending for your personal information to be traded, enriched and enhanced without your knowledge or consent for marketing purposes?

The answer, more often than not, is no.

You most likely do not want the company sharing your information with third parties purely for their own marketing gain, even more so without your consent to boot.

This processing of your personal data by Experian resulted in products which were used by commercial organisations such as political parties or charities to find new customers, identify the people most likely to be able to afford goods and services, and build profiles about people.  The UK Data Protection Regulator , the Information Commissioners Office (“ICO”) found that significant ‘invisible’ processing took place, likely affecting millions of adults in the UK. ‘Invisible’ because the individual data subject is not aware that the organisation is collecting and using their personal data. This is against data protection law.

The Data Protection Act (DPA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) initiated a new approach to personal data and the transference of such data. It had 7 main aims/principles

  1. Lawfulness, fairness and transparency
  2. Purpose limitation
  3. Data minimisation
  4. Accuracy
  5. Storage limitation
  6. Integrity and confidentiality (security)
  7. Accountability

These aimed to guide and regulate organisations to allow for individuals to have greater access to their data and to be able to understand what companies could and could not do with it.

Experian, failed to be transparent – outlined under Article 5 GDPR; this is because they were using ‘invisible’ processing of personal data and therefore were not being clear to data subjects, as to what their personal data was really being used for. g. The regulator found that personal data provided to Experian, in order for them to provide their statutory credit referencing function, was being used in limited ways for marketing purposes.

The ICO ordered Experian to make fundamental changes to how it handles people’s personal data within its direct marketing services. Experian did not accept that they were required to make the changes set out by the ICO, and as such were not prepared to issue privacy information directly to individuals nor cease the use of credit reference data for direct marketing purposes. As a result, Experian has been given an enforcement notice compelling it to make changes within nine months or risk further action. This could include a fine of up to £20m or 4% of the organisation’s total annual worldwide turnover. The enforcement notice followed a two-year investigation by the ICO into how Experian used personal data within their data brokering businesses for direct marketing purposes. The ICO’s notice requires Experian to inform people that it holds their personal data and how it is using or intends to use it for marketing purposes. Experian has until July 2021 to do this subject to any appeal. The ICO also requires Experian to stop using personal data derived from the credit referencing side of its business by January 2021, which it does currently for limited direct marketing purposes. In the enforcement notice, the ICO states that people have no choice about whether their data is shared with Experian for credit referencing purposes and that Experian’s processing of this data for marketing purposes is unexpected.

At the same time that the ICO were investigating Experian, other credit reference agencies (CRA) were being investigated for similar reasons, only along with transparency some of the CRAs were also using profiling to generate new or previously unknown information about people, which is often privacy invasive. It is not revealed in the report as to whether Experian were also using profiling within their processing. This highlights the potential need for further regulating of these providers to ensure that there is compliance at all times in regards to both UK GDPR as well as the UK Data Protection Act (DPA). Similarly investigations such as this open consumer eyes as to what goes on ‘behind closed doors’ of companies in regards to their data and how it is used. Outgoing UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has remarked: “The data broking sector is a complex ecosystem where information appears to be traded widely, without consideration for transparency, giving millions of adults in the UK little or no choice or control over their personal data. The lack of transparency and lack of lawful bases combined with the intrusive nature of the profiling has resulted in a serious breach of individuals’ information rights.”

It is safe to say that certain reports and investigations that your data is being used for purposes that you did not consent to will have had an impact on the company itself – with its reputation severely tarnished.

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