UPDATE: Privacy commissioner says UVic breached privacy act by not protecting employee information

B.C.'s information and privacy commissioner releases report on data breach at UVic that saw personal info for 12,000 employees stolen

Given that such sensitive information – the names, social insurance numbers and banking details – for 11,841 University of Victoria employees was stored on a device so susceptible to loss or theft, B.C.’s privacy commissioner says there is “no rationale” that the information wasn’t digitally secure.

Elizabeth Denham, the province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, released her report Thursday on an investigation into a major data and electronics theft at UVic on Jan. 8 of this year. She says the university breached the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act when it failed to protect its employees’ personal information.

“While the University has established privacy and security policies in recent years, the institution failed to implement reasonable safeguards to protect data stored on the USB drive. Such safeguards are a legal requirement…,” read a press release from the OIPC.

Thieves targeted the payroll department in the non-alarmed Administrative Services Building, and stole a number of electronics. Among them was an unencrypted USB flash drive containing the personal information of anyone on UVic’s payroll since 2010.

“Limiting the amount of data stored on a mobile device or in other information systems reduces the negative effect of a privacy breach. The device contained the information of a large number of past employees,” Denham wrote in her report. “Given the amount and sensitive nature of personal information contained on the University mobile storage device, coupled with the ease of encrypting the information, there is simply no rationale for failing to encrypt this information.”

To the university’s credit, Denham said, the flash drive was stored in a locked and hidden safe.

“(The) device was stored in the safe, because staff recognized the risk associated with the sensitive data,” she wrote. ” Of course, in the actual event, what was perceived to be a very secure location was not, because the safe was not properly fixed in place. The anchors were not appropriate to prevent the safe being dislodged, and the thieves were able to remove it.”

A Saanich police investigation into the theft is still ongoing.

The majority of the electronics that were stolen were recovered in late January, but the flash drive in question is still outstanding. They were found destroyed in a garbage bag in a Canada Post drop box atop Bear Mountain.

Affixed to the bag was a dubious apology note: “The information on these devices was not copied, distributed, or exploited. We want to part of everyday people living in fear that their personal information is being used against them to take they’re (sic) hard earned money,” the letter read. But police aren’t buying it.

“We think this is a ruse by someone who wants to allay the public’s fears. But what they may have done is transferred the data, they’ll sit on it, and then go ahead and start defrauding people in a couple of months,” said Sgt. Dean Jantzen.

Jantzen says four current and former UVic employees came forward following the data breach claiming to have had money stolen from their bank accounts, but police have determined three of them to be unrelated. Police cannot confirm if the one outstanding fraud happened as a result of the data theft, or if it, too, is unrelated.

“it is clear that the type of personal information stored on the mobile storage device is valuable to criminal organizations. In addition to using it for identity theft, criminals can also exploit personal information to impersonate another individual, obtain medical treatment or use the basic information to create a fictitious identity,” Denham wrote in her report.

She said had the university invested in relatively inexpensive of data security measures, namely encryption software, the data would’ve been protected.

The flash drive was intended to be a back-up for the payroll department, in the case of an emergency where that information, which is typically stored on a secure server, was inaccessible.

“University staff made it clear that senior staff in Financial Services had considered using encryption on the storage device and in fact had received advice from others that encryption should be used. … However, although there appears to have been an intention to encrypt the data, it was not carried out,” Denham wrote.

The privacy commissioner made five recommendations as a result of the investigation:

• The University of Victoria should formally review their privacy and security policies at a minimum of every three years;

• The University should re-assess the physical security of the Financial Services area to determine whether it is necessary to alarm the entire building, and to assess other buildings on campus where personal information is stored;

• The University should develop a comprehensive policy, procedure, training and technical solution to ensure that personal information stored on laptops and other mobile security devices is protected as required by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. This policy and training program should include issues of data limitation, encryption, appropriate password maintenance, physical security, wireless security and proper disposal;

• The University should develop a policy that requires the privacy manager to conduct risk assessments of personal information data banks on an annual basis and report to the University President on the result of these assessments;

• The University should provide a copy of the report of the external consultant to my office for review and comment prior to its finalization.

UVic president David Turpin responded in a press release.

“We appreciate the commissioner’s thorough and thoughtful report and recognize that it identifies areas in which the university can improve the protection of personal information,” he said.

UVic earlier this year also commissioned an external privacy review, expected to be released later this spring. Former privacy commissioner David Flaherty is conducting that one.

Turpin says the university has already taken steps toward improving security on campus, including alarming part of the Administrative Services Building, mandating encryption standards for all the university’s electronic devices, and reviewing the policies and procedures surrounding personal information.

kslavin@saanichnews.com

Just Posted

Neighbour details hearing ‘thuds’ the day girls found dead in Oak Bay

Jury at double-murder trial hears from Andrew Berry’s neighbour

‘Goodness prevails’: neighbours reflect following suspicious death of 60-year-old Metchosin man

Martin Payne was found dead in his Metchosin home on Friday. Police have confirmed foul play.

Family cycling affair Tour de Victoria rolls into ninth year

Riders can sign up for the 160 km Factor race, or distances of 140, 100, 60 30 0r 15 kilometers

Repatriation efforts work to heal and connect through history: Royal BC Museum

Victoria museum’s efforts bolstered by B.C. repatriation grant

Big Lonely Doug among largest old-growth trees now on protection list

B.C. to protect 54 old-growth trees, but critics say it’s not enough

VIDEO: Sparrows raise their chicks in Cadboro Bay deck planter

Jill Yoneda captured 11 days up close with tiny Junco sparrows

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of July 16

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Olympic softball qualifier gets $150K boost from provincial government

2019 Americas Qualifier to be held in Surrey from Aug. 25-Sept. 1

Gas price inquiry questions Trans Mountain capacity, company denies collusion

The first of up to four days of oral hearings in the inquiry continue in Vancouver

‘Benzos’ and fentanyl a deadly cocktail causing a growing concern on B.C. streets

Overdoses caused by benzodiazepines can’t be reversed with opioid-overdose antidote naloxone

Chinook retention begins on North Island, but amid new size limit

DFO calls measures ‘difficult but necessary’ following rockslide on Fraser River

Will you be celebrating national hotdog day with any of these crazy flavours?

The popularity of hotdogs spans generations, cultures

Former home of accused Penticton shooter vandalized

Ex-wife of man who is accused of murdering four people had her house vandalized

Survivor of near-drowning in B.C. lake viewing life through new eyes

“If I died that day, the baby wouldn’t know his dad,” said 31-year-old Mariano Santander-Melo.

Most Read