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Travel Agency Fined £150,000 For Violating Data Protection Act

That'll teach them not to retain credit card data in perpetuity.

The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has fined the online travel company Think W3 ₤150,000 ($254,610.75) for violating the country's Data Protection Act, as well as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS). This penalty was issued in response to a December 2012 SQL injection attack that breached a Think W3 website and nabbed credit card numbers and other personally identifiable information on more than 1 million customers.

The site in question was a staff car parking system (for maintaining costs and availability of parking) that was created in 2006 and meant for internal use only. Unfortunately, it was installed on the same server that contained the company's main e-commerce application used to store customer personal data.

The car parking system had not undergone penetration testing or internal vulnerability scans before or after implementation -- the argument being that security testing was unnecessary, because it wasn't an external-facing site, and it required users to log in.

By compromising that site, however, attackers were able to obtain admin access to the common server. They then created a custom query to extract and decrypt cardholder data using the encryption key, which was not stored securely on the web server. After grabbing the credit card data (excluding CVV numbers), the attackers went on to lift the associated names, addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers.

The car parking system had never been updated, and the customer data had never been deleted, so when the attackers penetrated in December 2012, they were able to obtain records dating all the way back to 2006. Altogether they lifted 1,163,996 credit and debit card records, 733,397 of which were expired.

Investigators found none of these records were ever put to use for financial fraud.

Under the Data Protection Act, a "data controller" can be slammed with a monetary penalty if there is a "serious contravention" of the act, if it was "likely to cause substantial damage or substantial distress," and if it was deliberate, or if the data controller knew or should have known such a thing would occur, or if the controller "failed to take reasonable steps to prevent" it.

The highest penalty allowed by the law is ₤500,000.

Some of the factors that contributed to the size of the ₤150,000 penalty included the fact that the company failed to comply with PCI-DSS, test the site's security, patch software, update anti-virus software, and implement suitable intrusion detection systems, file-integrity monitoring software, encryption key management, and internal policies.

Another data controller was just fined for a Data Protection Act violation. Jayesh Shah, a marketing company owner from Pune, India, was fined ₤4,000 for failing to notify the ICO that he was changing his notification. He allegedly sent "millions of unsolicited text messages," but the offense was not for spamming, but rather for selling data on individuals to other parties.

Sara Peters is Senior Editor at Dark Reading and formerly the editor-in-chief of Enterprise Efficiency. Prior that she was senior editor for the Computer Security Institute, writing and speaking about virtualization, identity management, cybersecurity law, and a myriad ... View Full Bio

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Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Ninja
7/24/2014 | 4:05:36 PM
data is a liability as well as an asset
When it comes to data storage, less is more.
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