QotW #16: When businesses don’t protect your data…

2012-01-27 by . 1 comments

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This week’s blog post was inspired by camokatu‘s question on what to do when a Utility company doesn’t hash passwords in their database.

It seems the utility company couldn’t understand the benefit of hashing the passwords. Wizzard0 listed some reasons why they might not want to implement protection – added complexity, implementation and test costs, changes in procedures etc. and this is often the key battle. If a company doesn’t see this as a risk they want to remediate, nothing will get done. And to be fair, this is the way business risk should be managed, however here it appears that the company just hasn’t understood the risks or isn’t aware of them.

Obviously the consequences of this can range from minimal to disastrous, so most of the answers concentrate on consequences which could negatively impact the customer, and the main one of these is where the database includes financial information such as accounts, banking details or credit card details.

The key point, raised by Iszi, is that if personally identifiable information is held, it must be protected in most jurisdictions (under data protection acts), and if credit card details are held, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) requires it to be protected. (For further background information check out the answers to this question on industry best practices). These regulations tend to be enforced by fining companies, and the PCI can remove a company’s ability to use credit card payments if they fail to meet PCI-DSS.

Does the company realise they can be fined or lose credit card payments? Maybe they do but have decided that is an acceptable risk, but I’d be tempted to say in this case that they just don’t appear to get it.

So when they don’t get it, don’t care, or won’t respond in a way that protects you, the customer, what are your next steps?

from tdammers – responsible disclosure :

Contact the company, offer to keep the vulnerability quiet for a limited amount of time, giving them an opportunity to fix it.

In the meantime, make sure you’re not using the compromised password anywhere else, make sure you don’t have any valuable information stored on their systems, and if you can afford to, cancel your account.

from userunknown -

contact their marketing team and explain what a PR disaster it would be if the media learnt about it (no, I’m not suggesting blackmail…:-)

from drjimbob - 3 excellent suggestions:

Submit it to plaintext offenders?

Switch to another utility company?

Lobby your local politicians to pass legislation that companies that do not use secure hashes (e.g., bcrypt or at very least salted hash) on their password data are liable for identity theft damages from any compromise of their systems?

But in addition to those thoughts, which at best will still require time before the company does anything, follow this guidance repeated in almost every question on password security and listed here by Iszi -

Use long and complex passwords for all websites & applications, and do not re-use passwords across any websites & applications. Additionally, limit the information you give these websites & applications to only that which is absolutely necessary for them to serve their purpose

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