West Midlands Trains accused of ‘shocking stunt’ over cybersecurity test

West Midlands Trains has been accused of carrying out a “cynical and shocking stunt” which unions say saw the company falsely promise bonuses to employees for their hard work during the pandemic.

The TSSA union says it has learned that on 21 April WMT sent an email from managing director, Julian Edwards to around 2,500 members of staff thanking them for their hard work over the past year. The union says the email “clearly” suggested they could expect a financial reward after “huge strain was placed upon a large number of our workforce”.

In fact, says TSSA, WMT were “deliberately tricking” their employees as a means of testing IT security.

In correspondence seen by TSSA the company admit this “phishing simulation test” was “designed by our IT team to entice you to click the link and used both the promise of thanks and financial reward to try and convince you to provide your details”.

The union has described this as “totally crass and reprehensible behaviour” given that one worker at the company has died from Covid-19 and many others have fallen ill with the virus.

Union boss Manuel Cortes said: “This was a cynical and shocking stunt by West Midlands Trains, designed to trick employees who have been on the front line throughout this terrible pandemic – ensuring essential workers were able to travel.

“The company must now account for their totally crass and reprehensible behaviour. They could and should have used any other pretext to test their internet security. It’s almost beyond belief that they chose to falsely offer a bonus to workers who have done so much in the fight against this virus.

“Our members have made real sacrifices these past twelve months and more. Some WMT staff have caught the disease at work, one has tragically died, and others have placed family members at great risk.

“We need to know who sanctioned this email and we need an apology. Moreover, having fraudulently held out the prospect of a payment to staff, WMT must now be as good as their word and stump up a bonus to each and every worker.

“In that way the company can begin to right a wrong which has needlessly caused so much hurt.”

A West Midlands Trains spokesperson said: “We take cybersecurity very seriously, providing regular training on the subject and we run exercises to test our resilience.

“Fraud cost the transport industry billions of pounds every year. This important test was deliberately designed with the sort of language used by real cyber criminals but without the damaging consequences.”