Northern Ireland news

Police inform members of public about loyalist paramilitary data breach

Members of the public have now been informed that private information may have been breached

POLICE are understood to have informed a number of people and business owners that their private data may be in the hands of suspected loyalist paramilitaries.

The information was thought to have been unintentionally given to loyalists subject to investigation.

A number of computer devices were removed from loyalists for forensic examination as part of a police inquiry before being returned to the owners.

However, a pen drive containing what is thought to be a 'configuration file', containing personal details of private citizens from a number of internet service providers, was left in one of the devices.

The Irish News reported last month that hundreds of pages of data were discovered on the pen drive which was in the hands of loyalists.

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It included email addresses and passwords along with data that shows internet traffic between users.

A number of legitimate Northern Ireland-based businesses were listed among folders of data, along with the passwords to the companies' email addresses.

While The Irish News has seen some of the data, it is not in possession of it and does not intend to make public any of the private information seen.

However, it is understood that a number of people have now been visited by police and warned that their internet privacy has been breached.

A specialist police team has been set up to investigate the data breach under the supervision of Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray.

The team will be looking at establishing how a pen drive containing personal information was plugged into a device that was returned to loyalists under investigation.

The release of folders of documents - some encrypted but others easily accessible - is also being investigated by the Information Commissioner.

The breach happened after the introduction of GDPR, the new European framework for data protection laws which is enforced by the Information Commissioner's Office.

The Police Ombudsman has also launched an investigation into the data breach.

Assistant Chief Constable Gray said last month “we take these allegations extremely seriously".

She added: "We appeal to anyone who may have knowledge or possession of the alleged pen drive to contact police."

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