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Computer With UK Bank Customer Data Sold On eBay 184

Posted by kdawson
from the fingers-pointing-in-a-circle dept.
Walpurgiss tips a BBC News story about a man in Oxford who paid $140 for a computer on eBay, and was shocked to find on it bank records of several million customers of the Royal Bank of Scotland, its subsidiary Natwest, and one other bank. "Mr. Chapman said anyone with a basic knowledge of computer software would have been able to find the data fairly simply. 'The information was in back-up CDs and in ISO files so it would have been possibly quite easy to find...,' he said."
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Computer With UK Bank Customer Data Sold On eBay

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  • Honesty (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @09:25PM (#24759149) Homepage Journal

    Kudos for him for speaking up rather than trying to abuse the situation.

    • Re:Honesty (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PunkOfLinux (870955) <mewshi@mewshi.com> on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @09:30PM (#24759195) Homepage

      Agreed, although we shouldn't be forced to think that doing the right thing is so rare that we must laud it.

      Still, good job.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Brian Gordon (987471)
      Yeah I'm sure he'll be thanked for his trouble.. with a pair of handcuffs and a hood..
      • Yeah I'm sure he'll be thanked for his trouble.. with a pair of handcuffs and a hood..

        Yeah, with the current level of collusion between the corporate world, the government and judicial system, there is very little incentive to do the right thing. He should be give 10% of what ever appropriately large fine should be placed on the Banks and companies involved.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by cayenne8 (626475)
          Hell, even better, why doesn't he turn around and resell the stuff on eBay?

          I'm sure he could raise a pretty penny for all that info.....

        • by X0563511 (793323)

          While that kind of payment is good, it unfortunately encourages people to blackmail for the reward. I would rather people avoid trying to steal data with the intention of performing a "good deed" for the reward.

          • While that kind of payment is good, it unfortunately encourages people to blackmail for the reward. I would rather people avoid trying to steal data with the intention of performing a "good deed" for the reward.

            If data about me stored by a 3rd party company can be easily stolen, I would prefer somebody did and exploited the 3rd party company rather than me. If they are not adequately protecting my data then they deserve to be punished (or punched as I had originally "mis-typed").

            There are already laws in place to deal with people stealing data for what ever reason, people violating them to collect data will not be rewarded. This thread was started with the implication that such laws could be used by corporati

    • Indeed. Naturally however, he will now be sued by BoS for his trouble.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by larien (5608)
        Doubt it. BoS (I assume you mean Bank Of Scotland) won't as it was information from RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland Group) which was lost. As far as I've heard, there hasn't been any sueing going on anyway.

        The worst part is that RBS didn't atually have a breach, it was a 3rd party. That, of course, could well lead to someone getting sued.

        • by kabocox (199019)

          The worst part is that RBS didn't actually have a breach, it was a 3rd party. That, of course, could well lead to someone getting sued.

          Um, by my logic, if its your data that you are required by law to keep "secure" every "third party" that you allow access to that data falls under your responsibility. Sure, the RBS is fully responsible for this. It sounds like they are doing every thing that they can to determine how the breach happened. I'd want automatic government fines against the RBS and every "third p

      • by Dan541 (1032000)

        How?

        The someone sold that data to him, they are the ones who can get sued.

        • by Tony Hoyle (11698)

          He bought a working second hand computer for £50. It said on the news that that machine 'went missing' from the datacentre where it was stored... aka. it was nicked (well what did he expect from ebay, I guess).

          So he could be charged with receiving stolen goods, given that the machine (if it was the same one that was pictured on the news - it was a server with internal RAID array) was worth *far* more than £50 and he will have known that.

          • by Dan541 (1032000)

            He got the machine of eBay, whether or not it's stolen has nothing to do with him.

            of course it's different if you intentionally hide "merchandise" for your mate.

    • Re:Honesty (Score:5, Funny)

      by Dekortage (697532) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @11:00PM (#24759963) Homepage

      Man: "Look, I found eight million customer records on here!"

      Bank tech: "That's weird, we always stored ten million records in those databases..."

      Man: "Huh, no idea what happened to those other two million." (hides batch of CDs) "I can't believe you guys sold 8 million customer records on eBay!"

      • Re:Honesty (Score:5, Funny)

        by The Great Pretender (975978) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @02:12AM (#24761461)
        Man: "Look, I found eight million customer records on here!"

        Bank tech: "That's weird, we always stored 7 million records in those databases..."

        Bank tech2: "Funny I thought it was 12 million..."

        Bank tech3: "What are records?"

        Bank tech4: "Hey, didn't I just decommission that laptop using that online eBay-thingy service?"

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Kudos for him for speaking up rather than trying to abuse the situation.

      Kudos indeed for bringing it to light to publicly shame them, but really, unless he had solid ties to the Russian mob how would he abuse the situation?

      It's not like he found a bag of money lying in the street... Most folks wouldn't know what to do with this kind of database (or at least, how not to quickly get caught when exploiting it.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by bit01 (644603)

      Kudos for him for speaking up rather than trying to abuse the situation.

      How do you know he didn't make a copy before speaking up? Get the cash and the kudos...

      ---

      Virus scanners don't detect M$ and US government trojans.

  • by volxdragon (1297215) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @09:26PM (#24759161)

    ...Really Bad Security instead of Royal Bank of Scotland.

    • by jtcedinburgh (626412) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @03:21AM (#24761821)

      OK, I have to pipe up on this one.

      I've previously worked a few freelance tech gigs at RBS and the one thing I can say with certainty is that their internal security is extremely tight. Tighter than anywhere else I've worked in my time. The fact that anything gets done, EVER, is a minor miracle in the face of the mountain of red-tape, security, bureaucracy and general faffing with sign-offs and corporate governance that is needed to do pretty much anything.

      So, I'm going to pipe up on behalf of RBS, your honour... :-)

      Thing is, one thing I categorically don't believe is that the responsibility for handling customer data like this would fall to one individual without direct accountability. Knowing RBS, there would be forms to fill in, checks made, audits done and any handling of customer data would need to be signed off at a high level, and would be entirely traceable. Which is to say that if there's a breach, I don't think it's likely to be a break-down in procedure.

      Now, you might laugh about this, but I know how many hoops I had to jump through to get things like dev rights on a developer box ("so, let me get this straight, sir, why do you need to be able to write to the C: drive?" - that sort of dumb thing) so I really doubt that a half-wit in marketing or HR or whatever would be entrusted with such data. It is kept under lock and key and it would certainly be VERY UNUSUAL to be allowed to make a cd copy of customer data. To do so would require sign off from Very Senior Management (at Director level), and hence visibility at EVERY STAGE and accountability for EVERY ACTION would be enforced with *GREAT RIGOUR*...

      So my money is that this isn't what it at first appears to be - it could be the case that this is something else and the press have got the wrong end of the stick.

      Or maybe I'm wrong. Often am, you know... ;-)

      • by rapiddescent (572442) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @04:41AM (#24762145)

        as another tech contractor who has worked in the past at 113DS, FR and GF - I know what you mean about getting dev access or access to one of the gigantic machine rooms. I would say that RBS core systems and its brands (natwest, coutts, Ulster(s)) are extremely secure to the point of not being able to do any work. Even the due process to make a change to a production system is amazing with full-time boards spending all day evaluating every change.

        from what I read on finextra.com, it looks like this box was owned by a supplier firm and subsequently was stolen by an employee of the supplier firm and sold on ebay. Also, the box had not been used since 2005 - perhaps an old server in the cupboard (of the supplier Graphic data) that an employee thought they could sell on ebay. I am struggling to see how this would have happened as a badged RBS server at one of the EDI datacentres. They run a tight ship.

        one thing for sure, Graphic Data can kiss goodbye to their contract with RBS - one thing I know abut RBS is that they are very worried about security breaches - especially public ones like this.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by larien (5608)
      Except it wasn't them who lost the data, although what a 3rd party was doing with all those records I'm not sure.
  • by jkinney3 (535278) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @09:27PM (#24759165)
    I bought a pair of SGI Origin 200 machines that contained names, credit cards, and enough data to be a real problem for many thousands of people. The labels on the machines listed them as from @home which had closed their doors. I did the dd if=/dev/zero dance and reinstalled IRIX.
    • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:24PM (#24759673)
      Some twenty years ago, back when those orange plasma displays were popular, a girl I used to work with said she'd gotten hold of some Compaq portables, and would I want to buy one? She was only asking a couple hundred bucks (I believe they cost several thousand new at the time.) So I stopped by to take a look, thinking I could really use a machine like that. That line of thought lasted right up until the system finished booting and a custom menu appeared with legend of a major national bank across the top. Given the price and the data on them, I figured they were hot (I asked what truck they'd fallen out of) and declined to buy one.

      That was then, now we're in the Age of the World Wide Web, and there's just no excuse whatsoever for loading down a portable (read: easily stolen) computer system with vast quantities of confidential data. In fact, that really ought to be a law with few exceptions: customer and personal data must be stored on a server that is both physically and electronically protected. Period.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        In fact, that really ought to be a law with few exceptions: customer and personal data must be stored on a server that is both physically and electronically protected. Period.

        Servers get decommissioned, too. All that protection isn't going to help if they screw up and leave unencrypted data on their drives. Decommissioned hardware may certainly get used again, depending on how it was disposed of. I'm aware of one company that disposes of hardware--they recycle some parts and sell others. (I believe they require their customers to scrub the data before they throw it out.)

        For instance, I have a customer in an industry where that would be bad (which doesn't narrow things down, I

        • by zappepcs (820751)

          Destroying the data should be a simple as encrypting the harddrives with a 100 characters of randomnes followed by a reformat and a shutdown.

          Yes, if someone was truly interested, it's possible they could recover it but it is rather unlikely. Most of the data breaches appear to happen by accident, where encryption would have kept the data safe.

          So,

          1 - erase the data
          2 - encrypt the drive with a near impossible key
          3 - reformat
          4 - no profit for next owner

        • by couchslug (175151)

          "I suggested physically destroying the disks."

          Good you.

          Laws should be enacted to require shredding of the entire machine (not just the hard disks, so none are left onboard) of computers containing sensitive data. Businesses cannot be trusted,so mechanisms should be put in place to control, monitor them for compliance, and punish breaches of trust.

      • by kabocox (199019)

        That was then, now we're in the Age of the World Wide Web, and there's just no excuse whatsoever for loading down a portable (read: easily stolen) computer system with vast quantities of confidential data. In fact, that really ought to be a law with few exceptions: customer and personal data must be stored on a server that is both physically and electronically protected. Period.

        Um, that seems very short sighted. What happens when all the servers in the data center get reduced into the size of a briefcase or

  • by flaming error (1041742) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @09:30PM (#24759199) Journal

    Somebody should have set a much higher reserve price.

  • by ILuvRamen (1026668) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @09:36PM (#24759247)
    If you're dumb enough to make a backup CD and then save the ISO onto the hard drive just in case the hard drive crashes, you're dumb enough to sell it on ebay without wiping it. I suppose this could have been some sort of backup storage server and not the computer that actually contained the data to be backed up but for that price it's a little unlikely.
    • by BLAG-blast (302533) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @09:47PM (#24759341)

      Dummy says dummy...

      They made an ISO, made 3 CDs of each ISO (one for the filing cabinet, one for off site back up, one for the on site safe), then didn't both deleting the ISOs...

      It's dumb, but not as dumb as your ideas.

      • A deleted file including an ISO can live on the hard drive forever in recoverable or partially recoverable form. Criminals routinely buy PCs from surplus and then re-sell the uninteresting ones in hopes of garnering some profit from deleted data - in many cases turning a profit just on the turnaround process. Security researchers do it also, to gain fame and credibility from pointing the finger of shame which leads to step 3: consulting profit! A PC that's been "quick formatted" and then had an OS install

        • by Gordonjcp (186804)

          Smelting the disks is paranoia anyway. On any hard disk made in the last decade, a *single overwrite pass* where all sectors are rewritten with new data will wipe the old data beyond any hope of recover.

          No, your mate's data recovery firm won't get it back.

          No, the NSA don't have a big magic machine that will get it back.

          No, you can't look at the bits with an electron microscope.

          The days when hard drives used simple on/off transitions to mark bits - which is crucial to the idea of recovering overwritten data

          • by ZorbaTHut (126196)

            Considering that a 320gb hard drive is worth somewhere around $100 now, and that the process required to read data off it would theoretically cost more than standard drive recovery - which itself costs in the region of $2k - I highly doubt that anyone is going to take you up on your offer. However, this is not in any way proof that the process doesn't exist, it's just proof that your junky old 320gb hard drive isn't a valuable enough prize.

            • by Gordonjcp (186804)

              cost more than standard drive recovery - which itself costs in the region of $2k

              That's for reading data off a quick-formatted drive. You *cannot* under any circumstances read data off a drive that's been overwritten even once. Well, assuming it was built this century, I suppose. If you've got critical data on an old ST506 drive, then your problems are largely of your own making.

              • by ZorbaTHut (126196)

                I've seen security researchers say otherwise. I have to admit I believe them more than I believe some dude on Slashdot.

  • Should I have not done that?
    • I'm going to have to plead ignorance here...nobody told me that this sort of thing was frowned upon.
  • Hand it back? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mishotaki (957104) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @09:46PM (#24759329)

    So in the article, they say that they expect him to hand "it" back.. does that means that the poor guy who paid 77£ to give back the computer for free?

    Personally i'd charge a hefty sum to make them get back that computer, just to make them remember that he paid and he was nice enough to tell them.

    • Re:Hand it back? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by timmarhy (659436) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:08PM (#24759539)
      i'd charge the pricks a consulting fee for my time. a few grand should cover it. i certainly wouldn't be handing back what is entirely his property, since he purchased it fair and square they have no recourse.

      mind you in his day and age i wouldn't be suprised if he ends up in jail for his honesty, if it was me i wouldn't be saying anything. if i was a more desperate man i might even have sold those details online for a princely sum....

      • Re:Hand it back? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MichaelSmith (789609) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:20PM (#24759635) Homepage Journal

        i'd charge the pricks a consulting fee for my time. a few grand should cover it. i certainly wouldn't be handing back what is entirely his property, since he purchased it fair and square they have no recourse.

        Do that and you go straight to jail, don't pass go, don't collect $200. Your consulting fee will be seen as extortion.

        • Re:Hand it back? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by timmarhy (659436) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @11:23PM (#24760159)
          it's my property, how can i extort someone when they WANT to purchase something i own? by that logic every service fee ever paid on new car sales is extortion.

          now if i went to them and said "pay me or i'll tell the media what retards your IT security guys are" that's extortion. but since it's already all over the news sites it's not possible to call it extortion.

          it's also pretty damn cheeky (and just the thing i'd expect from a bank) to expect him to just hand back his purchase.

          this would in fact be an interesting case to test in court as to who owns data when you purchase a pc. no doubt IP lawyers would be foaming at the mouth saying your buying hardware not software (that might shoot some of their, but then this isn't software but plain data which they didn't license so he'd have a reasonable expectation that it came with the sale.

          • by ecavalli (1216014)
            "by that logic every service fee ever paid on new car sales is extortion."

            Have you seen those service fees? You aren't far off.
          • this would in fact be an interesting case to test in court as to who owns data when you purchase a pc. no doubt IP lawyers would be foaming at the mouth saying your buying hardware not software

            Good point. I don't know the slightest about American copyright law (strong IANAL :-) but it seems barely reasonable that someone sells you a medium and thereafter forces you to delete contents on this medium (you own, sitting in your house) without any compensation. They can wipe it if they pry the HD from my cold dead hands...

        • Legally the bank is in a rotten place (actually, the contractor even more so). If this was original data someone would have missed it by now given the volume, but it is a copy. He bought the system as-is, so he did not establish a provable record of intention.

          He has been honest in reporting the find, but the fact is that the hardware is still his. If the bank wants to do ANYTHING with that data they will have to compensate him, and the nature of that compensation is very much a matter of debate.

          It's a di

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by carlzum (832868)
      I was going to say the same thing. You'd think he would get a premium to encourage people to come forward in the future. If people are worried they'll be under suspicion or have their equipment taken away, why would they do the right thing? The honest ones will trash the data. If other systems were sold off in the lot it may be discovered too late.
    • by Tony Hoyle (11698)

      If you buy something and it turns out to be stolen as in this case (and he will have damned well known it - a server including hard drives for £35/£55??) then you don't own it and it must be returned to the original owners.

      The same way as if you buy a car for $5 you can't claim it's yours just because you paid for it when it turns out to have been stolen.

  • Taking bets! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RyoShin (610051) <tukaro@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @09:54PM (#24759401) Homepage Journal

    How many days do you think it will be before the government tries to charge him with something or the bank in question tries to sue him? I'd be pleasantly surprised if neither happened.

    Also, the summary leaves out something that might affect those of us on the other side of the pond:

    A spokeswoman for the third company reported to be involved, American Express, said it took the security of its card members' data "extremely seriously".

    Bold mine. I know they have different branches for countries and such, but I wonder if any of this data crossed international bounds.

    • How many days do you think it will be before the government tries to charge him with something or the bank in question tries to sue him? I'd be pleasantly surprised if neither happened.

      I dunno ... it would be seriously bad PR to do that now that the story is all over the place. You can get away with screwing somebody like that if they report it to you privately: call in the gendarmes and have the Good Samaritan hauled off to the slammer. That happens more often than you might think (too many CIO/admin ty
  • Goodwill (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gnu-sucks (561404) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:09PM (#24759547) Journal

    I bought a sun box at goodwill once and besides an intact customer database for several large companies, it also had the admin's personal backup files, including his "My Documents" folder, his Palm cell phone, and 1200 dpi scans of his passport. Oh, and some file called "passwords.doc". No idea what is in there...

    More details here:
    http://lfnet.net/blog/?p=41 [lfnet.net]

    But yeah... wipe it before you get rid of it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Ghworg (177484)

      Never mind wiping it, this stuff should never be stored unencrypted in the first place.

  • Bugger.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by s0litaire (1205168) * on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:16PM (#24759599)
    I was just going to pick up a cheep 1U server for a Mod Project! Now i've no chance! Everyone will be buying up every server hoping for Disks full of Banking details now!! :(:(
  • by PPH (736903) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @10:52PM (#24759909)

    Its tough to sell a machine with no O/S on it. Most buyers will take one look at the retail price of XP (for example) and subtract that from their eBay bid. Most sellers are unwilling to risk a complete disk scrub and reinstall. Even if they are, its doubtful that they still have (or ever had) media to do an install on a clean system. The most that the non-tech savvy will attempt is to drag the contents of 'My Documents' to the trash can icon.

    This is an opportunity for a Linux distro. Include an easy-to-use boot/nuke/install mode and offer them to people who put systems up for sale on various web sites.

  • DBAN (Score:3, Informative)

    by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @01:27AM (#24761207)
    Learn it, know it [dban.org]. A very simple utility for wiping drives that you can run as a boot disk.
  • I found a stack of customer record printouts with names, numbers, addresses, financial info, and SSNs in a house I bought just this year.

    ..I also found the former owner's hidden pot grow equipment.
  • In the UK, of course, the government distributes your information to everyone by USB key [today.com] ;-)

    Srsly, the Information Commissioner is getting very shitty about this sort of thing and seriously talking about prosecuting government departments (i.e., senior civil servants) for data breaches. You can be sure a few private companies will make good notches on his Clue Gun.

  • He's a computer tech, and bought 3 systems at an auction, to fix up and resell.
    Every one of them booted up to Win2K, every one of them had enormous amounts of customer data for a local branch of a large stock/securities brokerage -- people's names, social security numbers, account numbers, account contents, you name it. The mother lode of high-$ personal information.
    He said that what really worried him was that his sample size was 3 out of 3 computers he'd purchased, all loaded with personal information, b

  • Encryption must be dead. I mean, if even banks don't think to routinely encrypt sensitive data, what hope is there?

    Surely it's not that hard to get into the groove of encrypting stuff like this? I would have thought that by the year 2008, all servers, however mundane, would have their drives encrypted to at least remove the possibility of them turning up on eBay with their data hanging out.

    Yes, encryption won't protect from an inside job, and yes, most people forget passwords and put them onto stickies, but

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