Updated Workplace pension provider NOW: Pensions has emailed a number of UK customers to warn about a data leakage caused by contractor error.
The email, seen by this publication, claims a service provider "unintentionally" posted user data to an unnamed "public software forum". These records include biographical data (names, email addresses, and dates of birth) as well as National Insurance numbers. According to the pension provider, the data was obtained by "a small number" of third parties.
NOW: Pensions said the records were only visible for "a short time". This apparently means three days, with the company saying the data was exposed between 11 and 14 December.
From the warning issued to customers, it's hard to grasp the scale of the problem. NOW: Pensions did not disclose how many records were exposed, nor how many third parties copied the leaked data. We asked NOW: Pensions, as well as its PR agency, for comment via phone call and email. At the time of publication, we had not heard back.
As expected, the company has entered damage control, with customers offered 12 months of free Experian Identity Plus (a subscription service that offers credit and darkweb monitoring services) to assuage them of their worries. It also promised to review staff training, and said the individuals responsible for the snafu no longer have access to user data – although the company did not go into any detail about whether they're working with or for the company.
Both the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and The Pensions Regulator have been informed. An ICO spokesperson told The Register: "NOW: Pensions Limited have reported a breach to us and we will be assessing the information provided."
In the email issued to customers, NOW: Pensions admitted improper use of customer data is a possibility, describing it as "the worst case scenario". Downplaying the issue, it said there's "no evidence to suggest this has happened or will happen".
"There's no evidence which indicates that your data is being used by unauthorised parties, or that the unknown parties who had access to your data have any malicious intent," it added.
This feels a little premature. Given the issue was still active less than two weeks ago, according to NOW: Pension's own disclosure, it's hard to determine the where these leaked records will end up, or how they'll be used. The intimate nature of the data means it is entirely plausible they could form the basis of targeted phishing efforts.
NOW: Pensions was formed in 2011 and is the third-largest master trust in the UK. It has faced various IT woes throughout its existence, which earned it unwelcome attention from regulators.
In 2018, The Pensions Regulator issued the firm a £50,000 fine for failing to ensure all employee and employer contributions were promptly collected and invested. The same year, it was hit with a further £20,000 for failing to report late or missing contributions to members.
In 2019, a Parliamentary inquiry into workplace pensions saw NOW: Pensions interrogated by MPs over investment performance concerns, with the firm forced to explain why its returns were three times lower than those of its main competitors.
Updated on 22 December at 16.47GMT to add:
Following publication of this article, Now: Pensions contacted us to clarify that fewer than 2 per cent of its customers were affected, and it has sent emails or letters informing them of the leak.
This article has been corrected from the version first published which incorrectly stated that 1.7 million members have been contacted. ®