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NZ government network leaking data like a sieve

Updated: Ministry apologises, launches investigation

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A row has broken out in New Zealand after a blogger exposed serious security flaws in that country’s job-seeker network.

The blogger, Keith Ng, demonstrated that public job-seeker kiosks had unauthenticated access to the corporate network of the Ministry of Social Development (MND).

His posting raised concerns that attackers might have similar access to MND documents not only from kiosks, but from the Internet. The MND has shut down all kiosks while it investigates the incident, but has still been criticized by Paul Matthews, CEO of NZ’s Institute of IT Professionals, for a “systematic failure of IT security and governance”.

Ng himself, however, has come under criticism for his voracious appetite for grabbing files to prove his point. As his blog post shows, Ng took a look at files for contractor invoices, hours worked, medical information, debt collection, fraud investigation. He notes that “I sorted through 3,500 invoices … about half of what I obtained”.

While demonstrating that the network was unsecured represents a considerable service to the public, not knowing when to stop has probably put the blogger well on the wrong side of the law. Over at National Business Review there’s some lawyerly punch and counterpunch about whether, in fact, Ng went so far he’s at risk of jail under New Zealand’s Crimes Act, even though “prosecution guidelines meant action was unlikely to be taken”.

Ng’s blog post notes his intention to hand all the documents he obtained over to New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner. ®

Update: The New Zealand government and the Ministry of Social Development have held a press conference in which the Minister, Paula Bennett, has apologised for the security breach.

It appears unlikely that Keith Ng will be prosecuted, with the ministry’s CEO Brendan Boyle telling the press conference he appreciated that Ng had kept the information he gathered secure, and had communicated with the New Zealand Privacy Commissioner.

“Let’s get to the bottom of it, find out how and why, and make sure it never happens again. I am mortified … that anyone’s information was accessed in this way,” the minister said.

Boyle has announced an inquiry, with terms of reference to be set within the next 24 hours and a report requested within two weeks, saying “I want to find out why the system was architected in a way that is insecure”. He told the press conference he expects both the terms of reference and the report to be made public within the constraints of security.

Boyle also told the press conference that an unnamed individual had contacted the ministry last week, offering to exchange information about the kiosks’ insecurity for money. ®

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