NZ government network leaking data like a sieve

Updated: Ministry apologises, launches investigation


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. ®

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022