British Airways is fined £20m after 2018 data breach

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British Airways is fined £20m after 2018 data breach when personal details of 400,000 customers was accessed by hackers

  • British Airways has been fined £20million over a 2018 data hack, ICO said
  • Airline ‘should have found security weaknesses which enabled attack to occur’
  • Carrier failed to protect personal and financial details of 400,000 customers
  • BA did not detect the hack for two months and was alerted by a third-party 

British Airways has been fined £20million over a 2018 data breach which allowed hackers to access the personal and financial details of more than 400,000 customers, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced today.

The watchdog found that the under-fire airline should have identified the security weaknesses which enabled the attack to take place.

An ICO investigation found that the carrier was processing a significant amount of personal data without adequate security measures in place. 

This failure broke data protection law and led to BA being the subject of a cyber-attack in 2018, which it did not detect for more than two months.  

The watchdog found BA ought to have identified weaknesses in its security and resolved them with security measures that were available at the time.

British Airways has been fined £20million over a 2018 data hack, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has announced (stock photo)

British Airways has been fined £20million over a 2018 data hack, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has announced (stock photo)

Addressing these security issues would have prevented the 2018 cyber-attack being carried out in this way, investigators concluded.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: ‘People entrusted their personal details to BA and BA failed to take adequate measures to keep those details secure.

‘Their failure to act was unacceptable and affected hundreds of thousands of people, which may have caused some anxiety and distress as a result. That’s why we have issued BA with a £20m fine – our biggest to date.

‘When organisations take poor decisions around people’s personal data, that can have a real impact on people’s lives. The law now gives us the tools to encourage businesses to make better decisions about data, including investing in up-to-date security.’

Because the BA breach happened in June 2018, before the UK left the EU, the ICO investigated on behalf of all EU authorities as lead supervisory authority under the GDPR. The penalty and action have been approved by the other EU DPAs through the GDPR’s cooperation process.

In June 2019 the ICO issued BA with a notice of intent to fine. As part of the regulatory process the ICO considered both representations from BA and the economic impact of COVID-19 on their business before setting a final penalty.

A spokesperson for BA said: ‘We alerted customers as soon as we became aware of the criminal attack on our systems in 2018 and are sorry we fell short of our customers’ expectations.

‘We are pleased the ICO recognises that we have made considerable improvements to the security of our systems since the attack and that we fully co-operated with its investigation.’

The attacker is believed to have potentially accessed the personal data of approximately 429,612 customers and staff. This included names, addresses, payment card numbers and CVV numbers of 244,000 BA customers.

Other details thought to have been accessed include the combined card and CVV numbers of 77,000 customers and card numbers only for 108,000 customers.

Usernames and passwords of BA employee and administrator accounts as well as usernames and PINs of up to 612 BA Executive Club accounts were also potentially accessed. 

ICO investigators found that BA did not detect the attack on June 22, 2018 themselves but were alerted by a third party more than two months afterwards on September 5. 

Once they became aware BA acted promptly and notified the ICO.

It is not clear whether or when BA would have identified the attack themselves. This was considered to be a severe failing because of the number of people affected and because any potential financial harm could have been more significant. 

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