Business Law & Compliance

Concealing a data breach could land you an "Uber fine"

3 min read

27 November 2018

Deputy Editor, Real Business

Uber has been fined £385,000 by the ICO for a 2016 data leak that affected almost 3 million British users. Here's what SMEs should take away from the incident.

A series of “avoidable data security flaws” allowed the personal details of 2.7 million Uber customers to be accessed and downloaded by attackers in the UK, the International Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says. These details included their full names, email addresses and phone numbers, according to the Financial Times.

Customers weren’t notified, however. Neither were regulators. Instead, the ICO suggests “Uber paid the attackers responsible $100,000 to destroy the data they had downloaded.”

This is a serious breach of principle seven of the Data Protection Act 1998.

As Steve Eckersley, ICO director of investigations, made clear: “This was not only a serious failure of data security on Uber’s part but a complete disregard for the customers and drivers whose personal information was stolen.

“At the time, no steps were taken to inform anyone affected by the breach, or to offer help and support. That left them vulnerable”, he continued.

Experts have thrown in their two cents, saying that the ICO’s punishment was entirely justified given the ride-hailing company’s incident response to the scandal.

According to Mark Adams, regional vice president of Veeam, an information technology company, there’s a lesson in cyber security and transparency to be had here.

When it comes to the former, companies need to go back to the basics – because the corporates aren’t learning from past mistakes.

His advice? Deliver a company-wide employee training program on data protection and phishing attacks.

“Human-led errors are still the weakest link in the security chain for a business,” Adams says. “No matter who you are or who you work for, this has to be right and employees have to be more aware of their actions.”

“From a technology standpoint, knowing how to find and implement intelligent data management tools that can spot irregularities automatically and act accordingly is crucial.”

“Are the latest security products helpful? Sure, to an extent. They are a great first line of defence. But when the first barriers are breached, what have you got left to protect your business and its staff?”

An “it will never happen to us mentality” won’t prevent your company from being hacked. So be prepared for the absolute worst, Adams says.

He added: ” It might seem excessive to begin with, but this is the key to a successful data breach response. It’s near impossible to prevent all data leakage and data theft, but a strong and versatile incident response process can help significantly reduce the pain associated with these types of data breach issues.”

You’ll never know when a hacker will take interest in your company – when they do, don’t be unprepared like Uber.