On 20 February 2015, the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office (“ICO”) fined Staysure.co.uk Ltd (“Staysure”), an online travel insure, £175,000 for failing to protect its customers’ personal data. In addition to technical vulnerabilities, the ICO took into account Staysure’s lack of security policies and practices.

As a result of Staysure’s failure to implement processes to ensure that key software updates were applied, leading to vulnerabilities in the company’s IT systems, hackers gained access to customers’ personal details, medical data, and payment card information, including over 100,000 sets of credit card details relating to more than 90,000 individual customers. These stolen details were then used in relation to more than 5,000 fraudulent transactions.
In its monetary penalty notice, the ICO set out a number of factors that it considered when imposing the fine:

  • as aggravating factors - the evidence that personal data was used for fraudulent transactions, and the fact that Staysure should have been aware of its software vulnerability as far back as 2010; and
  • as mitigating factors - the ICO highlighted that Staysure was the victim of a criminal attack, was in the process of upgrading its IT systems at the time of the breach, that it had voluntarily reported the breach; remained cooperative with the ICO’s investigation; that it notified affected consumers; and took remedial action to remove payment card data from its systems.

This enforcement case - together with other regulators’ increasing focus on private sector companies, should serve as a warning to companies to establish adequate policies and procedures in order to check systems and keep them up to date for the purpose of helping prevent unauthorized disclosure of personal data.