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TalkTalk gets record £400k slap-slap from Brit watchdog

Details of carelessness disclosed with in-depth investigation of breach

The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has issued TalkTalk with a record £400,000 fine for allowing attackers to access customer data “with ease”.

The penalty comes at the same time as the ICO publishes its in-depth investigation of last October's megabreach, which the office claims “could have been prevented if TalkTalk had taken basic steps to protect customers’ information.”

According to the investigation, Brit ISP TalkTalk had hosted three webpages that were vulnerable to SQL injections. These had been brought into TalkTalk's infrastructure following its acquisition of Tiscali in 2009, but the company had failed to properly assess the IT for possible threats.

Exploiting this vulnerability, an attacker managed to access the personal data of 156,959 customers, including their names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers and email addresses. In 15,656 of these cases, the attacker also had access to bank account details and sort codes.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: “TalkTalk’s failure to implement the most basic cyber security measures allowed hackers to penetrate TalkTalk’s systems with ease.”

“Yes hacking is wrong,” Denham added, “but that is not an excuse for companies to abdicate their security obligations. TalkTalk should and could have done more to safeguard its customer information. It did not and we have taken action.”

TalkTalk's security failures extended to ignorance that its database software – which was unspecified – was not only outdated, but in fact so old that it was no longer even supported by the provider.

The company said it did not know at the time that the software was exploitable by the easily fixed SQL injection vulnerability, although it had received two early warnings that it said it was unaware of, including a successful SQL injection attack on 17 July 2015 that exploited the same vulnerability in the webpages, and a second attack that was launched between 2 and 3 September 2015.

Denham stated: “In spite of its expertise and resources, when it came to the basic principles of cyber-security, TalkTalk was found wanting.”

She added: “Today’s record fine acts as a warning to others that cyber security is not an IT issue, it is a boardroom issue. Companies must be diligent and vigilant. They must do this not only because they have a duty under law, but because they have a duty to their customers.”

A criminal investigation by the Metropolitan Police has been running separately to the ICO’s investigation. ®

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