13 May 2020 – Green CDL Ltd

A painting by one of the greatest 19th-century English artists has found itself at the centre of a cyber-hacking scandal.

In November 2018, the art dealer Simon C. Dickinson sold a rustic scene by John Constable (1776-1837) to the Rijksmuseum Twenthe in the Netherlands for a costly £2.4 million. The painting, entitled A View of Hampstead Heath: Child’s Hill, Harrow in the Distance, is a prime example of Constable’s famous landscape style in the 1820’s and had been keenly sought after by the museum.

Hackers managed to infiltrate correspondence between Dickinson and the museum and change the bank details for payment to a bank in Hong King. The museum paid the sum into the bank account and the money disappeared.

“This unfortunate event highlights the dangers of cybercrime in the art world, which is regrettable for both the museum and Dickinson, especially when both are victims in this instance,” said Emma Ward, Dickinson’s managing director.

Since the dramatic heist, the dealer and museum have been embroiled in a court battle. London judge Mark Pelling initially dismissed the Rijksmuseum’s attempt to sue Dickinson for negligence because it “owed a duty of care to maintain reasonable email cybersecurity.” Now the museum is serving another application to amend the claims against Dickinson by pursuing alternative claims for damages.

Dickinson’s lawyer, Bobby Friedman, said the museum should have independently confirmed the legitimacy of the bank account details before transferring the money, adding that his client, a specialist in Old Master paintings, was never aware any fraud was taking place. 

Both sides still maintain it was the other who was hacked. Gideon Shirazi, the museum’s lawyer, originally claimed that Dickinson’s negotiators were aware of the fraudulent emails, but they failed to act upon this knowledge.

“Silence would give rise to an implied representation,” explained Shirazi. “By saying nothing, they said everything.”

The Rijksmuseum Twenthe currently have possession of the painting, which is blocking Dickinson from trying to resell the painting.

Experts are now warning the art world against the perils of remotely conducting large sum business transactions. Whilst many countries have been placed in lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak, experts advise galleries to be extra vigilant for fraudsters in these uncertain times.

Green CDL Ltd is a company providing cyber security and data protection training, eLearning, advice and Cyber Essentials certification.

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