Winz breach: Key calls for full review

By Kate Shuttleworth, APNZ staff

Keith Ng used these kiosks to uncover private information about MSD clients. Photo / file
Keith Ng used these kiosks to uncover private information about MSD clients. Photo / file

Prime Minister John Key has called for a Government-wide review of online information after the Government's largest security breach.

Up to 700 self-service kiosks located in Work and Income offices across New Zealand, linked to 1500 Ministry of Social Development (MSD) servers, were unsecured. That meant private information was fully accessible to anyone who used them.

The kiosks were closed today and the MSD servers were secured.

Mr Key has called for the review to be carried out by Government Chief Information Officer Colin MacDonald, who will deal with all Government heads of agencies and review all computer systems and security.

The Prime Minister said he was hesitant to jump to conclusions on what went wrong, but labelled the MSD systems as "quite old and quite chunky"despite the kiosk system being only two-years-old.

MSD has also hired an independent security expert to carry out its own investigation.

Ministry chief executive Brendan Boyle admitted embarrassment over the latest privacy breach.

He declined to name the expert but said the terms of reference for the investigation would be drafted overnight, and an interim report would be completed in two weeks.

An internal taskforce would be set up to support the review and work with the Privacy Commissioner.

Mr Boyle said KPMG and other IT experts were hired regularly by the ministry to attack their sites and expose any vulnerabilities.

He would not say why KPMG had not picked up on the security flaw with the WINZ kiosks.

KPMG said they had not been involved in auditing the WINZ kiosks, but had worked on MSD servers separately.

Staff at MSD installed the system more than two years ago and it had been changed after a year.

Mr Boyle and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett both apologised for the breach.

Ms Bennett confirmed MSD had been contacted by a man last week asking for a "reward" in order to share details of a privacy loophole in their system.

Labour's spokeswoman for social development Jacinda Ardern called for an urgent debate on the privacy breach.

She said the information revealed by blogger Keith Ng had "exposed a massive weakness" in the system.

Questions would be asked in Parliament tomorrow.

Assistant Privacy Commissioner Katrine Evans said the breach was of major public interest and had dented confidence in the Government.

"Any time we have an episode like this, it has the capacity for very serious damage to trust in government and in business.

"I think people are waking up to the fact that protection of personal information is one of the foundation stones.

Beneficiary Advocate Kay Brereton said she had alerted the Ministry to the problem a year ago. She said an IT person at the Wellington People's Centre was able to view IP addresses across the server.

Mr Boyle said the earlier breach was unrelated, but Ms Brereton said she believed the security breach last year was related to the breach uncovered this week.

She said a decision had been made to not delve into the MSD server due to breaching privacy, but said she believed it was possible.

Mr Ng has raised $4000 for writing the story though fundraising website Givealittle.

"Basically, it's busking journalism. I do the story, then ask for money. It beats the hell out of freelancing," said Mr Ng.

What the blogger found:

Keith Ng, who blogs on publicaddress.net, wrote in a post at 10pm on Sunday (14/10/12) that he had followed up on a tip-off about a security lapse last week.

He had gone to two Wellington offices and found anyone could open private files through public computer kiosks.

Mr Ng said data exposed to public view included:

* Names of candidates for adoptions and foster parents

* Debt collectors' invoices, which listed the names of clients who owed money

* Names of children living in Child, Youth and Family care homes

* Addresses of the care homes

* Names of children and their medical prescriptions on pharmacy invoices

* Names of investigators and clients in fraud investigations

"This stuff was all a few clicks away at any Winz kiosk, anywhere in the country," Mr Ng said on his blog post.

"The privacy breach is massive, and the safety of vulnerable children was put at risk."

- NZ Herald

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