Equifax fined for data breach which left 15 million people’s data at risk

PUBLISHED: 08:43 20 September 2018 | UPDATED: 09:13 20 September 2018

Equifax has been fined for a cyber security breach which put the personal information of up to 15 million UK citizens at risk. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Equifax has been fined for a cyber security breach which put the personal information of up to 15 million UK citizens at risk. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Credit reference agency Equifax has received a £500,000 fine after a cyber attack in 2017 put the personal information of up to 15 million people was put at risk.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found the company’s UK arm failed to take appropriate steps to ensure its US parent Equifax Inc – which was processing data on its behalf – was protecting the information.

The ICO’s investigation, carried out in parallel with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), revealed multiple failures at the credit reference agency which led to personal information being retained for longer than necessary and vulnerable to unauthorised access.

It found measures that should have been in place to manage the personal information were inadequate and ineffective, while investigators found significant problems with data retention, IT system patching and audit procedures.

The investigation also found that the US Department of Homeland Security had warned Equifax Inc about a “critical vulnerability” as far back as March 2017.

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The personal information lost or compromised during the incident ranged from names and dates of birth to addresses, passwords, driving licence and financial details.

The incident, which happened between May 13 and July 30, 2017 in the US affected 146 million customers globally.

The ICO’s investigation was carried out under the Data Protection Act 1998 rather than the current General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and the fine is the maximum allowed under the previous legislation.

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said Equifax showed a “series disregard” for its customers and their personal information.

“The loss of personal information, particularly where there is the potential for financial fraud, is not only upsetting to customers, it undermines consumer trust in digital commerce,” she said.

“This is compounded when the company is a global firm whose business relies on personal data.

“We are determined to look after UK citizens’ information wherever it is held. Equifax Ltd has received the highest fine possible under the 1998 legislation because of the number of victims, the type of data at risk and because it has no excuse for failing to adhere to its own policies and controls as well as the law.”

She added: “Many of the people affected would not have been aware the company held their data; learning about the cyber attack would have been unexpected and is likely to have caused particular distress.”

An Equifax spokesman said: “Equifax has co-operated fully with the ICO throughout its investigation, and we are disappointed in the findings and the penalty.

“As the ICO makes clear in its report, Equifax has successfully implemented a broad range of measures to prevent the recurrence of such criminal incidents and it acknowledges the strengthened procedures which are now in effect.”

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