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Ernst & Young accused by Canadian used computer dealer of data breach

Ellen Messmer | Sept. 11, 2014
A used computer dealer in Canada claims he discovered a trove of Ernst & Young customer business data on Dell servers bought back in 2006 -- and he wants the global consultancy to pay him to return the data. But is the breach for real or just a hoax?

A used computer dealer in Canada claims he discovered a trove of Ernst & Young customer business data on Dell servers bought back in 2006 — and he wants the global consultancy to pay him to return the data. But is the breach for real or just a hoax?

Mark Morris, who describes himself as the owner of a small used computer dealership in Calgary that doesn't have a website, claims that in March of this year he discovered a huge amount of business data associated with Ernst & Young clients that had been left mainly on one of two servers he bought for $300 after Synergy Partners, the firm he had been working for as an independent contractor, was bought by Ernst & Young in 2003. Morris says he has reported the breach to a Canadian privacy commission.

"I told [Ernst & Young] I do not work for free," Morris said. He says that he first contacted Ernst & Young in March and that the company "just demanded I give them the server back."

Ernst & Young says because the conflict with Morris is a subject of continuing legal proceedings, it can't comment except to say it's "committed to the protection of the confidentiality and privacy of client information. As part of this commitment, our business operations are founded on robust data privacy and information security programs." Ernst & Young says it "takes proactive physical, technical and administrative measures to safeguard documents, computers and other data devices that contain client information."

Not surprisingly, the confrontation with Morris has triggered a legal response from the Canadian arm of Ernst & Young, and legal documents the firm has filed in a Calgary judicial setting reveal some aspects of it.

Ernst & Young states in court filings made by Calgary law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLC that it doesn't know if the Morris claims about finding customer data on the used servers are genuine. The company is asking for any data that might be on those old servers to simply be disposed of or returned.

But according to the legal documents, Morris is making monetary demands relative to any work he might be called on to do in all this and his view of the value of the data. He has indicated he has received bids of about $1.2 million for what's being called the "primary server," where the bulk of the old business data supposedly resides. At one point, Morris said he wanted Ernst & Young to give him a $50,000 retainer to begin deleting the purported customer data from where he has stored it, though not on the primary server.

 

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