Parliament hit by ‘sustained’ cyber-attack

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Parliament has been hit by a cyber attack, officials at Westminster say.

The “sustained” hack began on Friday night, prompting officials to disable remote access to the emails of MPs, peers and their staff as a safeguard.

The parliamentary authorities said hackers had mounted a “determined attack” on all user accounts “in an attempt to identify weak passwords”.

Government sources say it appeared the attack has been contained but it will “remain vigilant”.

A parliamentary spokeswoman said they were investigating the attack and liaising with the National Cyber Security Centre.

She said: “We have discovered unauthorised attempts to access accounts of parliamentary networks users…

“Parliament has robust measures in place to protect all of our accounts and systems, and we are taking the necessary steps to protect and secure our network.

“As a precaution we have temporarily restricted remote access to the network.”

‘Not a surprise’

IT services on the parliamentary estate are working normally and a message sent to MPs urges them to be “extra vigilant”.

But a number of MPs have confirmed to the BBC they are not able to access their parliamentary email accounts outside of the Westminster estate.

It comes just over a month after 48 of England’s NHS trusts were hit by a cyber-attack.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said: “We have seen reports in the last few days of even Cabinet ministers’ passwords being for sale online.

“We know that our public services are attacked so it is not at all surprising that there should be an attempt to hack into parliamentary emails.

“And it’s a warning to everybody, whether they are in Parliament or elsewhere, that they need to do everything possible to maintain their own cyber security.”

The latest attack was publicly revealed by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard on Twitter as he asked his followers to send any “urgent messages” to him by text.

Henry Smith, Tory MP for Crawley, later tweeted: “Sorry no parliamentary email access today – we’re under cyber attack from Kim Jong Un, (Vladimir) Putin or a kid in his mom’s basement or something…”

The government’s National Security Strategy said in 2015 that the threat from cyber-attacks from both organised crime and foreign intelligence agencies was one of the “most significant risks to UK interests”.

The National Cyber Security Centre, which is part of intelligence agency GCHQ, started its operations in October last year.

The National Crime Agency said it was working with the NCSC but the centre was “leading the operational response”.


Building society’s account deadline axed

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A deadline for the closure of current accounts with the Norwich and Peterborough (N&P) has been cancelled, with 30% of customers still to receive letters explaining the move.

It was announced in January that the building society’s brand is to be abolished, some branches closed, and current accounts shut down.

The plan was for customers to move or close accounts by the end of August.

But its owner, the Yorkshire Building Society, now says there is no deadline.

The Yorkshire – the UK’s second biggest mutual – said that about 35% of the 100,000 customers affected had already closed their current account, switched to another bank, or was in the process of doing so.

It was staggering the flow of letters to affected customers to avoid a rush of inquiries, and has now written to 70% of those affected.

The remaining letters will be sent by the end of July.

‘Real shame’

The Yorkshire will close 28 N&P branches this year. The remaining branches will be rebranded as Yorkshire Building Society branches.

A spokeswoman for the Yorkshire said: “We are continuing to work closely with other financial providers in assisting customers to switch or close their account. We’re writing to customers with details of what they need to do next, and asking that customers complete the closure or switch of their account within six months of receiving their letter. We have not set a final date for closure.

“If a customer has not taken steps to close or switch their account within six months of receiving of their letter, we will work closely with the customer on a case-by-case basis to facilitate a switch or closure.”

In the meantime, no customers would be blocked from depositing money or conducting any normal banking transactions via their current account, she said.

The N&P is not part of the Current Account Switching Service so the process will be slower than could have been the case, taking about 12 days.

It was feared that some cash incentives to switch offered by rivals would not have applied, but many providers are now offering the perks to customers moving from the N&P.

Mike Regnier, chief executive of the Yorkshire Building Society, told BBC Radio 4’s Money Box earlier this year that it was a “real shame” that the accounts had to close. He said that too much investment would be required to keep the current accounts compliant with regulation if offered by the mutual. Instead it is to concentrate on savings and mortgage products.


Watchdog clamps down on online gambling

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The competition regulator is to take action against some online gambling companies which it suspects of breaking consumer law.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said some punters did not get the deal they expected from sign-up promotions offering cash bonuses to attract them to gaming websites.

The CMA also said the firms were “unfairly holding onto people’s money”.

Online gambling companies should “play fair”, said the CMA.

Nisha Arora, CMA senior director for consumer enforcement said: “New customers are being enticed by tempting promotions only to find the dice are loaded against them.

“And players can find a whole host of hurdles in their way when they want to withdraw their money.”

The CMA launched its investigation into the gambling sector in October 2016. It has since heard from about 800 “unhappy” customers and has “demanded companies answer questions about how they operate, and closely examined the play on a range of websites”.

As a result it has identified “a number of operators engaging in practices likely to be breaking consumer law”, which is why it is taking enforcement action.

Initially the CMA is talking to the companies, which it says it cannot name, demanding that they change their practices.

The firms can offer undertakings about how they intend to do that. If they do not meet the requirements, the CMA can take them to court. The court could fine the companies or ultimately revoke their licences.

The online gambling sector has grown by about 150% since 2009 and is worth £4.5bn. The CMA said more than 6.5 million people regularly use the sites.


UK holiday fraudsters could face jail

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UK holidaymakers who make bogus food poisoning claims could go to prison, warns travel trade organisation Abta.

A huge rise in false claims has left travel bosses “embarrassed” by a trend which they say is a “British problem”.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said the fraud is “one of the biggest issues that has hit the travel industry for many years”.

He added that tourists chasing false or exaggerated claims “risk ending up in jail either in the UK or abroad”.

Tens of thousands of UK tourists have put in for compensation in the past year, even though sickness levels in resorts have remained stable.

Clampdown call

Abta says the cases usually involve holidaymakers who have been abroad on all-inclusive deals, who argue that because they only ate in their hotel, that must have been the source of their alleged food poisoning.

It has launched a campaign called Stop Sickness Scams, asking the government to clamp down on the issue.

It says laws designed to stop fraudulent claims for whiplash have instead pushed the problem of false insurance submissions on to overseas holidays instead.

This is because of a cap on the legal fees that can be charged by law firms pursuing personal injury cases at home.

Mr Tanzer added: “The government must urgently address this issue. The legal loophole that is allowing firms to unduly profit from these claims must be closed.

“This would allow people with genuine claims access to justice but make this area less attractive to claims firms.”

Travel firm Tui said it had experienced a 15-fold rise in holiday sickness claims in the past year, costing between £3,000 and £5,000 a time, which was often more than the value of the holiday itself.

Tui’s UK managing director Nick Longman and Thomas Cook UK’s managing director Chris Mottershead both warned that if the problem continued, it could spell the end of the all-inclusive holiday for UK travellers.

Mr Mottershead said: “It has the potential of putting hoteliers out of business. They will stop British customers coming into their hotels.”

‘Touts’

Joel Brandon-Bravo, managing director of Travelzoo UK, told BBC Radio 5 live’s Wake Up To Money that the upward trend was being driven by claims management companies.

“People are being called when they get back from holiday and encouraged to make claims and we’ve also seen evidence of them employing touts outside resorts encouraging people to make a claim and walking them through the process to make it easy for them,” he said.

Mr Brandon-Bravo added that he felt people who were trying to cheat the system were not aware of the consequences if they were caught.

“Generally it is not made clear that if a claim is found to be fraudulent the individual could have a criminal record.

“In fact, there is one case going through right now with a Greek hotel, who is counter-suing a couple who made a claim for sickness three years ago for £10,000 and the hotel is counter-suing them for £170,000.

“They tried to withdraw their claim but they are seriously worried they could lose their house.”

The Foreign Office has also advised tourists against making any fraudulent claims.

“If you make a false or fraudulent claim, you may face legal proceedings in the UK or Spain,” the FCO warns.

“There have been reports of an increase in holidaymakers being encouraged to submit a claim for personal injury if they have experienced gastric illness during their stay,” says the FCO website.

“You should only consider pursuing a complaint or claim if you have genuinely suffered from injury or illness.”

The Alliance of Claims Companies told the BBC it was hoping to establish industry best practice principles that would help drive out rogue companies.

It wants to work with the travel industry to ensure genuine claims are dealt with effectively.


Carmakers call for transitional EU deal

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The government must secure a transitional Brexit deal to protect the future of the UK car industry, a trade group has said.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said Britain was highly unlikely to reach a final agreement with the EU by the March 2019 deadline.

That meant carmakers could face a “cliff edge”, whereby tariff-free trade was sharply pulled away.

It warned the industry would suffer without a back-up plan in place.

The EU is by far the UK’s biggest automotive export market, buying more than half of its finished vehicles – four times as many as the next biggest market.

UK car plants also depend heavily on the free movement of components to and from the continent.

The SMMT said any new relationship with the EU would need to address tariff and non-tariff barriers, regulatory and labour issues, “all of which will take time to negotiate”.

“We accept that we are leaving the European Union,” said chief executive Mike Hawes.

“But our biggest fear is that, in two years’ time, we fall off a cliff edge – no deal, outside the single market and customs union and trading on inferior World Trade Organization terms.

“This would undermine our competitiveness and our ability to attract the investment that is critical to future growth.”

He called on the government to seek an interim arrangement, whereby the UK stayed in the single market and customs union until a new relationship was brokered.

UK car manufacturing generated £77.5bn of turnover last year and accounted for 12% of all goods exports, according to the trade group.

It added that almost a million people were employed across the wider automotive industry.



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