British Airways (BA) faces a £183m fine for a data breach that took place in June of last year, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced on Monday.
It is the biggest penalty that any data protection authority has doled out yet, dwarfing the previous record of €50 million that France’s CNIL slapped on Google for failing to appropriately disclose its data collection practices.
In the breach, customers were diverted away from a BA website to a fraudulent site set up by hackers. There, the hackers harvested the data of around 500,000 users – including logins, payment card details, names, and addresses.
While the fine may seem large, it actually could have been worse. Under the GDPR, the ICO is able to fine up to 4% of annual global turnover for this kind of fine, which means that BA’s fine could have been more than twice as large.
The ICO Statement
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham bluntly summarised the reason for the fine in her announcement, “People’s personal data is just that – personal. When an organisation fails to protect it from loss, damage or theft, it is more than an inconvenience.”
As the Information Commissioner explained, companies have an obligation to protect their customer’s data. The “poor security arrangements”—as the ICO put it—of BA’s website allowed hackers to easily redirect customers to the fraudulent site.
Furthermore, the airline did not disclose the breach until September of 2018, stating even then that just 380,000 customers had been affected.
Under the GDPR, companies are mandated to protect any data that customers entrust to them. BA’s data protection programme failed to meet the security standards given the quantity and sensitivity of the data.
How to avoid GDPR fines
Avoiding fines from the ICO or other governing bodies sounds intimidating. But there are a few simple steps you can take to protect your customer’s data, and yourself from fines.
1.Know your data
What types of personal data do you collect and store?
How many people are you collecting data from?
Are there any “special categories” of data involved?
Do you transfer them out of the EEA?
All these questions help comprise the risk associated with customer data. The higher the risk you impose on customers, the greater the security you’ll need to provide in order to satisfy a Data Protection Authority if something goes wrong or if you get audited.
BA got fined because it didn’t impose adequate security safeguards compared to the high volume and sensitivity of the data it collected. Knowing your data risk is the first step to preventing a situation like BA’s.
2.Know your security
If you experience a data breach, you’ll have to report it. And if, under inspection, your security software isn’t up-to-date, or if you don’t use simple tools like anti-malware software, firewalls, and SSL certificates around your web forms, then you’ll probably be liable for a fine.
The same goes for access controls – if you give everyone in your company access to customers’ personal data, regardless of whether they need it for their job, you’ll be setting yourself up for a fine.
You need to be prepared for an audit or investigation if a data breach does happen. That means having the appropriate policies and procedures in place well before the breach occurs.
Some policies and procedures include a data breach response protocol, a broad data protection policy, and training courses around cybersecurity and data protection for any employees that have access to personal data.
Finally, make sure you document your personal data in a personal data inventory, describing the types of data your company collects, where it’s stored, how long it’s kept, who has access to it, how it’s deleted, and to whom it’s transferred.
Sovy’s GDPR Essentials can help you with each of the steps laid out above:
- Walk through a data mapping exercise and build your data inventory.
- Train your employees with industry-standard eLearning courses.
- Track document access and history to ensure transparency in the event of an audit.
- Manage your cookies and data rights (e.g. access, deletion, portability) with our consent manager dashboard.