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ACS:Law's mocking of 4chan could cost it £500k

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Off-the-cuff bravado aimed at internet pranksters has led to what must already rank as one of the worst ever data leaks, by the anti-filesharing solicitors ACS:Law.

The personal details of thousands of ISP customers accused of unlawfully sharing pornography, as well as video games, are now freely available online. The sensitivity of such data makes the leak a particularly serious matter under the Data Protection Act.

Meanwhile the law firm is faced with the threat of a fine by the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, who is keen to use new powers that raise the maximum penalty to £500,000.

The events of the past few days may come to mean that ACS:Law boss Andrew Crossley's comments in a brief phone conversation last Wednesday are remembered as some of the most ill-advised in internet history.

ACS:Law at that time was, along with several other rights holder-related websites, already the subject of a DDoS attack by 4chan members under the auspices of "Operation: Payback is a Bitch".

However when The Register caught Crossley on his mobile, he singled out ACS:Law for extra punishment.

"It was only down for a few hours. I have far more concern over the fact of my train turning up 10 minutes late or having to queue for a coffee than them wasting my time with this sort of rubbish," he said.

Posts on 4chan show this was all the encouragement members needed to redouble the attack.

According to several people involved, the records now available on filesharing networks were exposed in directories on the ACS:Law website front page, apparently as part of blundering efforts to bring it back online. While individuals whose alleged pornography downloading has been published to the world, along with their home addresses, may not thank 4chan, there was no "hack" involved.

"The question we will be asking is how secure was this information and how it was so easily accessed from outside," said Christopher Graham this morning.

"We'll be asking about the adequacy of encryption, the firewall, the training of staff and why that information was so public facing," he added.

There are plenty of other concerning aspects to the story. Though they were compelled to hand over customer details to ACS:Law by court orders, emails show that BT, for example, disclosed data via unencrypted Excel spreadsheet attachements.

The first lesson is already obvious, however: don't mess with 4chan. ®

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