IT Pro is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

DWP exposed 6,000 people’s data online for two years

The National Insurance numbers of thousands of individuals applying for disability benefit were left online

The sign of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as seen on its building

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has removed the personal details of thousands of people after they were exposed online for two years.

The files, published in March and June 2018, listed routine payments to the outsourcing giant Capita and included the National Insurance (NI) numbers of approximately 6,000 people, according to the Mirror. These individuals were believed to be applying for the disability benefit, PIP. No other personal data was exposed in the incident. 

Privacy rights group Big Brother Watch first discovered that thousands of these NI numbers were published online, before alerting the DWP, and the Mirror. The files had been exposed until one spreadsheet was removed on Monday this week, and another was removed last night after the publication alerted the government department.

“The DWP's reckless publication of data that could identify people receiving disability welfare is a gross violation of privacy,” said Big Brother Watch’s head of research and investigations, Jake Hurfurt.

“It underlines the department's increasing appetite to hoover up and spit out welfare data without considering the reasons why they are processing it or even taking care to do so lawfully. The department needs to prioritise apologising to the people affected for putting their privacy at risk in the breach and warn them of the risk, instead of just removing the file and saying nothing.”

Analysis suggests 6,842 NI numbers were published, all of which but four were published with the June 2018 data. These appeared beside payments for PI assessments and “factual reports”. Of these NI numbers, 401 were duplicates, for people who had both an assessment and a factual report, for example. This suggests the NI numbers of 6,441 individuals were published online throughout this period.

“Information issued in error as part of our regular transparency releases has been removed and will be replaced with revised data as soon as possible,” a DWP spokesperson told the Mirror. "While no one can be identified from the additional information published, we apologise for the mistake.

“We take our responsibility to protect data very seriously and have reported the incident to the Information Commissioner’s Office.”

IT Pro approached the ICO to ask whether it’s investigating this breach as a possible violation under GDPR.

Featured Resources

Join the 90% of enterprises accelerating to the cloud

Business transformation through digital modernisation

Free Download

Delivering on demand: Momentum builds toward flexible IT

A modern digital workplace strategy

Free download

Modernise the workforce experience

Actionable insights and an optimised experience for both IT and end users

Free Download

The digital workplace roadmap

A leader's guide to strategy and success

Free Download

Recommended

Best free malware removal tools 2022
Security

Best free malware removal tools 2022

22 Jun 2022
A guide to cyber security certification and training
Careers & training

A guide to cyber security certification and training

16 Jun 2022
What is shoulder surfing?
social engineering

What is shoulder surfing?

10 Jun 2022
CIAM buyer’s guide
Whitepaper

CIAM buyer’s guide

6 Jun 2022

Most Popular

Raspberry Pi launches next-gen Pico W microcontroller with networking support
Hardware

Raspberry Pi launches next-gen Pico W microcontroller with networking support

1 Jul 2022
Universities are fighting a cyber security war on multiple fronts
cyber security

Universities are fighting a cyber security war on multiple fronts

4 Jul 2022
Hackers claim to steal personal data of over a billion people in China
data breaches

Hackers claim to steal personal data of over a billion people in China

4 Jul 2022