The end of 2015 has seen a worrisome trend in data security, with the personal information of children becoming available to hackers due to data security issues with the much-beloved American and Japanese toys Barbie and Hello Kitty.
A cybersecurity researcher told the CSO Salted Hash blog that SanrioTown.com, the official Hello Kitty fan community website, was hacked and the details of 3.3 million user accounts—many thought to belong to young children—were exposed beginning Nov. 22.
The announcement came on the heels of the hacking of millions of accounts for the electronic children’s toy maker VTech in November, plus a finding by researchers of a number of security vulnerabilities in the systems of the Internet-connected “Hello Barbie."
The information exposed in the Hello Kitty breach includes names, birth dates, gender, countries of origin, e-mail addresses and “lightly protected passwords,” as well as forgotten password questions and answers.
Several other “Hello Kitty” websites with ties to SanrioTown.com were also breached, including: hellokitty.com, hellokitty.com.sg, hellokitty.com.my, hellokitty.in.th and mymelody.com.
With the popularity of holiday toys that talk back to children, it’s lucky that security vulnerabilities in the Hello Barbie toy were discovered before it was breached. Talk back toys allow children to speak to toys that send audio files over the Internet to a server, where responses are generated.
Bluebox Security issued a report finding a number of vulnerabilities with the app and the Wi-Fi network that messages were sent over, making it easy for hackers to steal data, including children’s audio recordings.
Against the background of these alarming breaches, the FTC offered some hope for parents in announcing a settlement with two app developers, LAI Systems, LLC and Retro Dreamer, accused of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule. The FTC, which added persistent identifiers to the rule’s “personal information” definition in 2012, accused the app-makers of allowing third parties to use persistent identifiers to collect personal information of children for advertising purposes without consent.
LAI Systems will pay $60,000 in civil penalties, and Retro Dreamer will pay $300,000. Both companies are also enjoined from further violations of COPPA—at a tune of $16,000 per violation per day.
While the FTC has put the companies on notice for cleaning up their advertising practices, the Hello Kitty, Hello Barbie and VTech security issues all present different challenges for enforcement, not to mention the companies that handle children’s personal information.
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