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UK childcare voucher site offline after security snafu

Busy Bees stung by breach

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A UK childcare voucher scheme has admitted that confidential customer data was briefly left exposed to other users during an upgrade last week, but denied suggestions that any sensitive information leaked as a result.

Busy Bees' childcare voucher site has been taken offline following an upgrade that went awry, according to a company spokeswoman, who said that confidential information might have been accessible on the members-only site for around 12 hours last Wednesday night and Thursday morning. She said data on the members-only site was not viewable on the internet at large, and maintained that security problems with the site arose solely as a result of last week's update.

Nick Gibbins, a Busy Bees user who discovered the breach and notified the firm, states he found email addresses of Busy Bees customers, National Insurance numbers, bank account details, payment logs and service logs on the site. In a blog posting, now restricted but still available through Google cache, Gibbins claimed that personal data for over one hundred thousand users was exposed by lax web security at Busy Bees.

He reports that the Busy Bees' childcare voucher system was run using Citrix Metaframe. A Java plug-in on the site was used to export the user interface of a Windows 2000 application. He reckons the security hole he discovered is the result of this fundamentally wobbly application architecture and had therefore probably existed for months.

"This is such a monumentally bad idea that I don't really have the words to explain it," he writes. "It fails on all counts: accessibility, availability, scalability and security. To make matters worse, the Windows application is exceptionally shoddy; the UI behaves inconsistently, there are issues with data integrity."

Busy Bees denies the admitted security problem is anything more than a temporary snafu. "The security bug was introduced as a result of an update," a spokeswoman for Busy Bees explained. "We've never had problems before," she added.

The firm plans to move the voucher scheme on a new secure site based on different technology, which it hopes will be ready later this week.

The UK's childcare voucher scheme provides a way for parents to get tax benefits for money spent on childcare. Funds are deducted from the salary of parents, who received credits in the form of childcare vouchers that can be used as payment at nurseries in return.

The scheme is managed by firms such as Busy Bees, which runs the scheme for organisations including Halfords, South Yorkshire Police, the University of Southampton and Thames Valley Police, according to email addresses seen by Griffin. ®

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