Feeds

Want to snoop on your neighbors? Come and work in Wisconsin

'Politicians, community leaders, board members, officers, family, friends. All over the place'

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

A legal case against Wisconsin's largest utility has provided a candid glimpse into a world where employees use detailed company records to snoop on celebrities and ex-lovers.

According to this recently published article by the Associated Press, a massive database maintained by Milwaukee-based WE Energies has been routinely accessed by employees looking for dirt on enemies or who are merely nosy.

"People were looking at an incredible number of accounts," the utility's vice president of customer service, Joan Shafer, testified in a sworn deposition last year. "Politicians, community leaders, board members, officers, family, friends. All over the place."

Among the people caught up in the mass snooping was then-acting Milwaukee Mayor Marvin Pratt. In 2004, as he was running for that office, a utility employee helped leak information to the media that Pratt was often behind in paying his heating bills. Pratt lost the election.

Other examples included a landlord who snooped on tenants to learn about their finances, a woman who repeatedly accessed her ex-boyfriend's account and someone who accessed a man's address so he could be served court papers.

The massive database at WE Energies contains credit and banking information, payment histories, social security numbers, addresses, phone numbers and energy usage. It sometimes also includes income and medical information.

Between 2005 and 2007, WE Energies disciplined at least 17 employees for breaking policies regarding the access of confidential information. But Shafer testified that it would be "difficult, if not impossible" to uncover all the instances of misuse.

A spokesman said the company has safeguards in place to clamp down on the practice. He declined to name them.

While the case focused on the utility, it's not hard to imagine other companies - say, large search engines whose business model depends on storing huge amounts of information about its millions of users - having similar problems.

And it's not hard to imagine employees of government agencies doing the same thing. Indeed, last year, the IRS has taken 219 disciplinary actions, such as firings and suspensions, against employees who improperly accessed confidential information. That was more than twice the number from the previous year. ®

The next step in data security

More from The Register

next story
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Infosec geniuses hack a Canon PRINTER and install DOOM
Internet of Stuff securo-cockups strike yet again
'Speargun' program is fantasy, says cable operator
We just might notice if you cut our cables
Apple Pay is a tidy payday for Apple with 0.15% cut, sources say
Cupertino slurps 15 cents from every $100 purchase
YouTube, Amazon and Yahoo! caught in malvertising mess
Cisco says 'Kyle and Stan' attack is spreading through compromised ad networks
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
Greater dev access to iOS 8 will put us AT RISK from HACKERS
Knocking holes in Apple's walled garden could backfire, says securo-chap
Microsoft to patch ASP.NET mess even if you don't
We know what's good for you, because we made the mess says Redmond
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.