Source: Nikkei Asia Review

Personally identifiable information from 129,000 individual accounts and 23 enterprises was affected by a recent data privacy breach involving telecommunications conglomerate Singtel.

The data taken includes consumer information containing varying combinations of personally identifiable information, said the company on Wednesday (17 Feb).

The enterprises include suppliers, partners and corporate customers.

Singtel said that a “large part” of the leaked data comprises the company’s internal information that is classified as non-sensitive such as data logs, test data, reports and emails.

Singtel said that it has completed initial investigations into the said breach, which took place in a third-party file-sharing system, adding that it has begun reaching out to affected stakeholders.

List of data affected by the recent Singtel data breach. Source: Singtel

Based on investigations and analysis conducted so far with the help of cybersecurity experts, the company has established which files on the Accellion FTA system were accessed illegally during the breach and which stakeholders have been impacted.

Accellion FTA, said Singtel, was the target of a sophisticated cyber-attack exploiting a previously unknown vulnerability.

When first alerted to exploits against the system last December, Singtel promptly applied a series of patches provided by Accellion to plug the vulnerability, the last patch being 27 December.

On 23 January this year, Accellion advised that a new vulnerability had emerged that rendered patches previously applied in December ineffective. Singtel immediately took the system offline.

On 30 January, Singtel’s attempt to patch the new vulnerability in the FTA system triggered an anomaly alert.

Accellion informed thereafter that the system could have been breached.

Singtel’s investigations later confirmed this and identified 20 January as the date the breach occurred.

The FTA system has been kept offline since 23 January. On 9 February, Singtel established that files were taken as a result of the breach and informed the public two days later on 11 February.

Singtel said that it has begun notifying all affected individuals and enterprises to help them and their staff manage the possible risks involved and take appropriate follow-up action.

“We are also appointing a global data and information service provider, to provide identity monitoring services at no cost to affected customers to help them manage potential risks. This service monitors public websites and non-public places on the internet, and notifies users of any unusual activity related to their personal information,” said the company.

Singtel’s Group CEO Yuen Kuan Moon on Wednesday apologised for the data privacy breach.

“While this data theft was committed by unknown parties, I’m very sorry this has happened to our customers and apologise unreservedly to everyone impacted. Data privacy is paramount, we have disappointed our stakeholders and not met the standards we have set for ourselves,” he said.

“Given the complexity and sensitivity of our investigations, we are being as transparent as possible and providing information that is accurate to the best of our knowledge. We are doing our level best to keep our customers supported in mitigating the potential risks,” Mr Yuen added.

Mr Yuen also thanked Singtel’s customers and partners for their patience and understanding as the company continues its cyber and criminal investigations to understand the full extent of the breach.

Singtel’s core operations and functions, he said, “remain unaffected and sound”, particularly as the incident “involves a standalone system provided by a third-party vendor”.

“Information security remains our highest priority and you have my commitment that we are conducting a thorough review of our systems and processes to strengthen them,” Mr Yuen assured.

In November last year, Parliament passed changes to the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) that will enable authorities to put in place heavier financial penalties against companies for data breaches.

With the introduction of the changes, large firms — those with an annual turnover of over S$10 million — can be fined 10 per cent of its annual turnover in Singapore or S$1 million, whichever is higher.

The enhanced PDPA also requires organisations to notify the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) affected individuals if there is a possibility that the data breach will cause significant harm, or if 500 or more individuals are affected by the said breach.

Individuals tasked with handling or controlling personal data may also be prosecuted for mishandling or re-identifying anonymised information without authorisation.

If found guilty, individuals may be punished with a fine of S$5,000, or up to two years’ jail, or both.

Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran said during the debate on the amendments that “the PDPC will ensure that financial penalties imposed are proportionate to the severity of the data breach”.

He noted that the increase in fines against companies found guilty of data breaches will come into effect only a year after the amended Act comes into force.

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