15 December 2022

Organisations bear ultimate responsibility for security of personal data even if IT services are outsourced

On 15 September 2022, the Personal Data Protection Commission (“PDPC”) published a written decision in relation to MyRepublic Limited (“MyRepublic”)’s breach of Section 24 of Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (“PDPA”) (the “Protection Obligation”).

The PDPC imposed a financial penalty of S$60,000 on MyRepublic’s breach of the Protection Obligation, which allowed a hacker to gain access to the personal data of 79,388 individuals, despite having considered: (a) MyRepublic’s prompt and effective remedial actions, (b) MyRepublic’s co-operation during the investigations and (c) MyRepublic’s voluntary acceptance of liability for the incident.


MyRepublic is incorporated in Singapore and is a telecommunications operator. MyRepublic accepted customer orders for mobile services through its mobile order portal (“Portal”), where its customers would submit their Know-Your-Client documents (“KYC documents”). The KYC documents were stored in a bucket (“Bucket”) on cloud-storage which MyRepublic procured from Amazon Web Services (“AWS”).

Access of the Bucket was restricted by an access key (“Key”) which was stored in the source code of the Portal to facilitate the transfer of KYC documents from the Portal to the Bucket. On 29 August 2021, MyRepublic received an e-mail from a hacker who accessed and exfiltrated the KYC documents. The hacker threatened to publish the said data unless a ransom was paid.

The PDPC’s decision

The Protection Obligation requires organisations to implement reasonable security arrangements to prevent the risk of unauthorised disclosure of customer data.

In this case, the PDPC found that MyRepublic had breached the Protection Obligation notwithstanding that the data was hosted on its vendor’s cloud service as MyRepublic retains control over the said data. The PDPC also highlighted that an organisation bears ultimate responsibility under the Protection Obligation to protect all customers’ data under its control.

In determining whether an organisation has breached its Protection Obligation, the PDPC will consider the reasonableness of an organisation’s security arrangements having regard to the volume and the sensitivity of such personal data concerned.

Having considered the high volume of personal data and the sensitive nature of the said data (i.e. identification documents such as NRICs and work passes), the PDPC found that MyRepublic had failed to put in place sufficiently robust security arrangements to prevent the risk of unauthorised disclosure of customer data.

The PDPC found that MyRepublic had failed to:

  1. Implement sufficiently robust processes to protect the Key: the Key was publicly accessible through the Portal’s functionality to display technical information, embedded in the Portal’s source code available to all of MyRepublic’s developers and captured in files made available to all employees; and
  2. Implement reasonable security controls for AWS environment: the Bucket should not have been made publicly accessible and access to the Bucket should have been restricted to only authorised applications or users.

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