The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has been forced to discipline a school in Hampshire after inadequate password policies allowed a pupil to access data management systems and expose the personal details of 20,000 individuals.
The incident occurred in March at Bay House School in Gosport after a pupil discovered that a teacher used the same password to access the school's web site and data management systems.
Information on 7,500 pupils, including names, addresses, photographs and medical history, as well as personal information on parents and teachers, was subsequently leaked online.
The school had advised staff not to use duplicate passwords, but no policies were in place to enforce this rule.
Sally Anne Poole, acting head of enforcement at the ICO, said that the incident should serve as a lesson on the importance of using different passwords for different systems.
"While it can be difficult to remember lots of different passwords, it is vitally important that individuals do not use the same password to log-in to data systems that are supposed to be kept secure," she said.
"This is particularly important when the systems allow access to sensitive information relating to young adults."
Bay House School head teacher Ian Potter has signed an undertaking to ensure that all reasonable measures are taken to encrypt and separate sensitive and confidential information held on the school's management system.
David Emm, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, argued that remembering unique, strong passwords for every online account can be a difficult task for users.
"But there are solutions. A password manager application, for instance, creates and remembers all passwords, and stores them securely behind a single password," he added.
"Alternatively, individuals can use an easy-to-remember passphrase as the core of each password and apply a few rules to tweak it for each account."
The incident is another in a long line of recent breaches against which the ICO has been forced to take action. The University of York, Lancashire Police and two housing agencies have all been warned about lax data security.
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