UK Parking Enforcement Contractor Leaves Sensitive Driver Data Exposed; Compounds Embarrassment By Issuing Bogus Legal Threats
from the as-secure-as-an-unlocked,-vellum-paper-door dept
Another day, another self-inflicted privacy breach. This time it’s a UK private parking enforcement contractor that’s leaving its supposedly-secret stuff right out in the open.
UK Parking Control (UKPC) is accused of revealing photographs of Brits’ cars parked with number plates clearly to be read and in some cases the location revealed. In some images it’s alleged that other details such as identification cards, shopping or belongings are clearly visible. Campaigners against private parking firms believe these images – allegedly made easily accessible to anyone on the UKPC website – exposed drivers’ personal information.
When UKPC tickets a car, its enforcers take photos of the vehicle (and, apparently, inside the vehicle, among other places), which are uploaded to UKPC’s site. The ticket itself has a printed URL pointing to the damning photos of the illegally parked vehicle. It’s a slick system, but its “security” is easily thwarted by a process AT&T might find strangely familiar.
[O[ne ticket recipient claimed to have found that by tweaking values in this web address, he could access thousands of other digital photographs of other people’s vehicles… Some shots show personal items on view inside the vehicles, such as an ID card placed next to a disabled-driver badge.
As you may recall, tweaking URLs allowed “Weev” to access the email addresses of hundreds of iPad users (and landed him in jail). The same lack of basic security is on display here. Changing a few values in the URL results in access to photos you were never meant to see.
A blog called Nutsville, which has been a longtime critic of the UK’s private parking enforcement, posted several photos obtained from UKPC’s website. Among the expected photos of vehicles (with visible license plates) are other oddities, including shots of the lower extremities of parking enforcement employees relaxing at home, several photos of vehicle interiors and most disturbingly, crystal clear photos of drivers’ identification cards.
After the Register reported this story, the UK Information Commissioner’s office pledged to investigate the leak. UKPC hasn’t publicly responded to the breach, but it did send its lawyers after Nutsville in the form of a bizarre Letter Before Action that mixes and matches criminal and civil actions and seems unable to decide on when exactly Nutsville should respond/comply. Nutsville’s response to the letter is well worth reading, punching holes in its paper-thin claims and generally deriding the ineptitude of the correspondence.
The letter claims Nutsville has breached the Computer Misuse Act, claiming these photos were acquired by “using a password, without authorisation, to access their website.” Nutsville points out this is completely false. The only thing accessed were various URLs on UKPC’s site by manipulating values in the URL themselves. From that point on, UKPC’s legal representative goes completely off the rails, threatening to inform the police (a criminal matter) of Nutsville’s actions. Mere sentences later, the lawyer threatens “injunctive High Court proceedings,” suddenly making it a civil matter. On top of that, UKPC’s rep demands Nutsville take down the blog post by 10 AM on April 2nd, only to wrap up the bungled legalese by requesting a reply by no later than April 8th.
As both deadlines have come and gone with no follow-up post from Nutsville (or response from UKPC), it would appear that the parking enforcement contractor has either given up on pursuing these bogus legal claims or is tied up attempting to clean up its own backyard ahead of the pending investigation.
The most disappointing aspect of this story is UKPC’s response. Disappointing, but far from unexpected. For many businesses, the most common reaction to being informed of a data breach is to shoot the messenger. Rather than issue an apology and fix the problem, they tend to fire off legal threats about “unauthorized access” or other vague hacking claims as if the end user making the discovery should be treated as a criminal for their own negligence.