900,000 people have been hit by a Virgin Media data breach in which a database containing personal details was accessible over the internet for 10 months.

The database contained details including email addresses, home addresses, and phone numbers, which were being stored for marketing purposes.

Virgin Media have stated that the breach took place due to the database being “incorrectly configured” by a member of staff. There was no hacking or malicious intent behind the breach, although it was also apparently accessed “on at least one occasion” by an unknown and unidentified user.

Zoe Kleinman, Technology Reporter at BBC News, stated that:

The fact that Virgin Media’s database hasn’t been actively hacked is reassuring for customers, but while the details are light, it sounds like human error is to blame and that is rather embarrassing for a tech firm.

 

Ten months is a long time for all that data to have just been sitting there, waiting to be found.

 

And while no passwords or bank details were among it, there’s an awful lot of contact information for a cyber-criminal to work with. Phishing expeditions – when someone tries to get financial information out of a victim by pretending to be a company with a legitimate reason for contact – are not particularly sophisticated, but they are effective for those caught off-guard, and can be a lucrative source of income.

 

It’s unclear whether this was yet another case of unsecured data being stored on a cloud service that’s easily searchable if you know how. There have been dozens of examples of this lately, including just this week a database of the personal details of people using train station wi-fi around the UK.

 

Virgin Media has apologised and really, there’s very little practical advice to offer in the light of this kind of breach, beyond the usual protocol of staying alert to any messages requesting personal information or access to any kind of finance.

You can read the full article on this story from the BBC, with Kleinman’s commentary, by clicking here.

This Virgin Media data breach is the latest in a series, from various organisations, which have seen databases left unsecured online. For example, a Microsoft database containing 250 million details was left exposed in December, as we reported here.

This is a worrying trend, and shows that these databases should be configured carefully by people who know the proper procedures and are fully trained and knowledgeable about cybersecurity.

Virgin Media has taken steps to close access the database, contact the ICO, and notify those affected by the breach, with advice about how to protect themselves from potential repercussions. While these are all positive steps, there’s no doubt that significant errors have been made and this breach could easily have been avoided.

If you want advice on how to protect user data, get in contact with our GDPR consultants today for invaluable, expert advice.