Just over one-third of all the public web pages of leading UK companies that collect personal information violate a key principle of new European data protection regulations


With just a year to go before the deadline to comply with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), many UK firms’ websites are capturing personal data insecurely, a study shows.

More controls are needed because most data capture forms found on websites fall within the scope of the GDPR, according to new research by digital threat management firm RiskIQ.

The EU regulation requires that provisions should be in place to ensure that personally identifiable information (PII) is captured and processed securely.

In the UK, the Information Commissioner has provided guidance that, in the case of data loss where encryption software has not been used to protect the data, regulatory action may be pursued.

The study revealed that 34% of web pages of FT30 firms that collect PII are doing so insecurely, 29% are not using encryption, 3.5% are using vulnerable encryptions algorithms, and 1.5% have expired security certificates.

While the insecure collection of PII is a violation of the GDPR, the study said the loss of personal data, profit and reputation resulting from the use of insecure forms is a legitimate concern for consumers and shareholders.

In addition to personal claim liability, Article 83 provides guidance on fines for GDPR faults, which start at €10m or 2% of global annual turnover for the preceding financial year, whichever is greater – or even double, depending on the infraction.

This applies to all companies actively engaging with European citizens, regardless of whether the firms have a physical presence in Europe.

The GDPR also requires companies to state clearly at the point of capture how they will use an individual’s data. Permission to use their data must be explicit and demonstrated through an action such as ticking a box – a significant departure from the “opt out” process most organisations currently have in place.

Bob Tarzey, analyst and director at Quocirca, said that although the RiskIQ research is focused on large UK companies, the findings are representative of all organisations.

“Many will already have the data security basics in place to comply with the regulations that precede GDPR,” he said. “However, GDPR has many additional requirements, especially around the way data is captured and processed. These include obtaining explicit opt-in from data subjects.

“Before an organisation can address GDPR, it needs to fully understand the extent of its online data-gathering activities. With enforcement of GDPR less than a year away, the time to act is now.”

The challenge for large, global organisations is the sheer volume and complexity of websites and web applications that need to be accounted for, not only for security purposes, but also for regulatory compliance, such as the GDPR.

“Thorough knowledge of an organisation’s web presence is crucial to steering clear of potential GDPR repercussions,” said Colin Verrall, RiskIQ vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“Our customers are using RiskIQ Digital Footprint to capture their full digital footprint and actively identify potential areas of non-compliance, including insecure data collection pages and forms.”

Verrall said this approach enables security and governance, risk and compliance teams to reduce an organisation’s attack surface and maintain compliance.

Locating customer data is likely to be the biggest challenge to fulfilling personal data erasure requests under the GDPR, according to a study by the Blancco Technology Group, which polled 750 corporate IT professionals in the UK, the US, France, Germany and Spain.

Marking one year to the compliance deadline, the ICO has urged organisations to seize the business benefits of being GDPR-ready.

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham called on businesses to see the benefits of sound data protection and act now to prepare for what she called “the biggest change to data protection law for a generation”.

However, 24% of companies polled in the UK and US expect to miss the GDPR compliance deadline and 30.6% said they had no timetable for being GDPR compliant, according to security firm Guidance Software.

Almost 18% said they were in the moderate planning stages and 11% said they were only in the initial stages of implementing processes to ensure compliance.

By: Warwick Ashford