Talk Talk fined £100,000 for data protection breach

Talk Talk has been fined £100,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Talk Talk fined £100,000 for data protection breach

TalkTalk was found to have breached the Data Protection Act because it allowed staff to have access to large quantities of customers’ data, thereby risking it falling into the hands of scammers and fraudsters.

The ICO said personal data belonging to up to 21,000 TalkTalk customers could have been used for scams and fraud. The breach came to light in September 2014 when TalkTalk started getting complaints from customers that they were receiving scam calls.

Typically, the scammers pretended they were providing support for technical problems. They quoted customers’ addresses and TalkTalk account numbers. The ICO then launched an investigation into how customer details, including names, addresses, phone numbers and account numbers, were compromised.

Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, said: “TalkTalk may consider themselves to be the victims here. But the real victims are the 21,000 people whose information was open to abuse by the malicious actions of a small number of people.

“TalkTalk should have known better and they should have put their customers first.”

The investigation found the issue was with a TalkTalk portal through which customer information could be accessed.

One of the companies with access to the portal was Wipro, a multinational IT services company in India, that resolved high level complaints and addressed network coverage problems on TalkTalk’s behalf.

A specialist investigation by TalkTalk identified three Wipro accounts that had been used to gain unauthorised and unlawful access to the personal data of up to 21,000 customers.

About 40 Wipro employees had access to data of between 25,000 and 50,000 TalkTalk customers. Staff were able to:

  • Log in to the portal from any internet-enabled device. No controls were put in place to restrict access to devices linked to Wipro;
  • Carry out “wildcard” searches. For example, entering “A*” to return all surnames beginning with that letter. This allowed staff to view large numbers of customer records at a time and to export data;
  • View up to 500 customer records at a time.

The ICO found this level of access was unjustifiably wide-ranging and put the data at risk.

The investigation found that TalkTalk should have been aware of the risks and that the misuse of personal data was likely to cause substantial damage or distress.

The ICO said Talk Talk should have been aware of the increasing prevalence of scams and attempted frauds and should have assessed the measures it had in place to mitigate against them.

It said TalkTalk had ample opportunity over a long period of time to implement appropriate measures, but failed to do so.

However, the ICO investigation did not find direct evidence of a link between the compromised information and the complaints about scam calls.