Plusnet customers SWAMPED by spam but BT-owned ISP dismisses data breach claims

Refuses to notify watchdog despite subscribers' fears


BT-owned ISP Plusnet has rebuffed concerns from customers who are worried that their email accounts have been compromised by spammers.

Despite the protests, at time of writing, Sheffield-based Plusnet was yet to turn itself into the UK's data watchdog – even just as a symbolic gesture to placate subscribers who fear that a possible data breach had occurred.

Register reader Simon tipped us off about what some suspected was a security gaffe on Plusnet's email system. He told us:

On 14th November a number of Plusnet customers started receiving marketing emails from a US company on email addresses they have given to Plusnet for billing purposes.

These customers say they have never given these email addresses to anyone else and are not receiving the same marketing messages to any other email address.

The only apparent conclusion is someone has obtained the billing email addresses of Plusnet customers.

However, despite a 14-page-long discussion thread on the telco's support forum, Plusnet has refused to accept responsibility for the spam attack.

Simon noted to El Reg: "As an ISP, they have an obligation to report data losses to the Information Commissioner's Office [ICO] and are currently refusing. Not a very responsible attitude on their part, given they are meant to be the cuddly face of internet access."

Indeed, we contacted Britain's information cops to flag up the complaints about a possible data gaffe at Plusnet.

An ICO spokesman told The Reg:

Under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, organisations who provide a service allowing members of the public to send electronic messages (eg telecoms providers or internet service providers) are required to notify us if a personal data breach occurs within 24 hours of becoming aware of the essential facts of the breach.

He added: "If a person still believes that the company has failed to look after their information then they should raise their concerns with Plusnet in the first instance. If they are not satisfied with the company’s response then they can raise the issue with our office providing any supporting evidence that they have, including details of the company’s response."

The ISP has posted an official response to its customers on its support forum. It said:

Plusnet has conducted a thorough investigation into this issue. Our investigations confirm that Plusnet’s Core Systems and Networks, including our subscriber and billing databases, have been verified and we are comfortable there has been no compromise.

Plusnet takes its obligations regarding our customer data very seriously – we ensure we comply with the guidance of the data protection regulator as well as the requirements of the Data Protection Act. All companies that Plusnet work with are required to ensure data is processed securely and in accordance with the Data Protection Act.

Plusnet will continue to monitor its security controls to ensure all data, including customer data, is protected. If we have any further updates on this we will of course let you know.

However, despite being approached by The Register on Friday morning, the company was yet to respond with comment. We were hoping Plusnet would explain why it hadn't reported the matter to the ICO, given the concerns from customers who feared their data has been compromised.

El Reg was told by a company spokeswoman that Plusnet was "looking into this as a matter of priority."

Back on the firm's forum, the ISP's staffer Bob Pullen has been fielding the customer complaints. Among other things, he was asked if Plusnet had contacted the UK's data cops yet. Pullen responded with this humdinger:

The decision to report matters to the ICO lies with out legal and compliance teams. I'm no legal expert (and don't get me wrong, I recognise some of the observations from you guys speak for themselves) but I'm not 100 per cent sure something like this would qualify. Not without explicit and quantifiable evidence that shows one of our systems to have been compromised, something we're almost certain hasn't happened.

That's right, folks, Plusnet is "almost certain" it's in the clear. So you can all rest easy now, right? ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021