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A&L Goodbody apologises to staff over fake Covid case email

Email erroneously warning of close contact to a positive case was designed to test security awareness

Staff were later told the email was a fake and had been sent out as part of an information security awareness programme. Photograph: iStock

A top Dublin law firm has apologised for sending out a fake email to some of its staff, warning them wrongly that they had come into contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19.

The apology from A&L Goodbody, one of the largest business law companies in the State, came after it sent an email with apparent bad news about coronavirus purportedly from the Health Service Executive.

The email was supposed to test against illegal phishing, where people are tricked into providing information online that could be used to steal from them.

But it left recipients in a state of distress, at a time of anxiety about high rates of Covid-19 infection in the community.

“It is essential that you self-isolate for 14 days, and arrange a test at your local testing centre as soon as possible,” said the email, which was sent on Wednesday to groups of staff in the firm and was purportedly from “HSE contact and trace”.

The recipients were advised to upload on a website the “names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses of everyone you have been in contact with”, all part of an apparent effort to keep “friends, family and co-workers as safe as possible”.

The email added: “This information is vital in helping us all to avoid a further lockdown in your area.”

As word spread in the firm about the supposed close contacts, A&L Goodbody realised it had a problem of its own making.

General counsel Liam Kennedy sent an email hours later to all 800 staff at the firm admitting the email was a fake, saying it was sent out as part of an information security awareness programme.

“It was a clear error of judgement to have used Covid as a way of carrying out a phishing and [we] realise it will have caused unnecessary distress and concern,” he said.

A spokesman for A&L Goodbody, legal adviser to many large Irish and international companies, acknowledged the blunder on Thursday, saying it should not have happened. “We apologise sincerely to the select number of people who received Wednesday’s test phishing email,” he said.

“It does not reflect all that we have done to support the health and wellbeing of everyone in the firm during this pandemic - which continues to be of paramount importance to us. We have already taken steps to ensure something like this does not happen again.”