Crooks attempted to defraud the UK government after swiping sensitive details on tens of thousands of civil servants, postmen, BT staff and public-sector workers, The Register has learnt.
The audacious raid of personal information on state and private-sector employees is the subject of a two-and-a-half-year criminal investigation. The leak put thousands of people at risk of identity theft.
The affected citizens - all of whom are past or present members of the Civil Service Sports Council (CSSC) - received letters warning them that their details were stolen two years and nine months ago by fraudsters who used the data to attack central government.
Sometime in or before February 2010 the database of 100,000 CSSC members was compromised, the council admitted in a letter dated 23 November this year. Names, addresses, National Insurance numbers, dates of birth, and in some cases debit card details and information about employers were lifted.
The non-profit sports body, which organises activities and leisure facilities, was alerted to the breach when a criminal investigation into fraud attempts on central government traced the data used in the scams to CSSC's database.
Its membership is available to Royal Mail and BT staff as well as public-sector workers in the NHS, Fire Service, police, armed forces, education and other organisations.
The sports council believes no individuals suffered from identity theft as a result of the leak, although it warned members to report any attempts to defraud them:
When the theft was first identified, we had evidence relating only to a small part of our membership records. There was no evidence of any risk to individuals since the fraud concerned attempts to defraud central government rather than individuals.
Explaining why the council decided to warn all its members now, rather than two years ago, CSSC added:
We took the advice of the relevant authorities which was that no purpose was served by notifying members at that time. Investigations have now revealed that our full membership database could have been stolen and we have decided that members would want to know about the theft.
The sports council alerted the Information Commissioner's Office on 18 February 2010, but the matter then passed over to police detectives, who have been investigating it since.
The personal information was held on a single database, which was subsequently breached. It is possible that financial details for those who paid the £40 yearly subscription fee have also been filched, as may have employment details, which were held separately.
Because of the ongoing criminal investigation into the leak, details of who inappropriately accessed the database, how they were able to do so, and how the attempted fraud against the government was committed have not been revealed. A Register source said National Insurance numbers are often used as a form of staff ID number in the Civil Service, which is why they were held on record.
El Reg asked the Metropolitan Police for a statement on the investigation and whether any arrests or charges have been made, and will update this story when it gets back in touch with us.
CSSC has apologised to its members and assured them that from March 2010 it significantly tightened its data security.
We have also contacted the council for further comment on the story, in particular why it withheld information about the breach from their members for so long, but the organisation would not comment beyond the information on its website, adding only that "fresh information which has recently come to light" prompted the mail-out to members. ®