British Airways fined £20 million for data breach that affected over 400,000 customers

Key Points
  • British Airways has been fined by the U.K.'s Information Commissioner's Office.
  • The ICO said BA failed to protect the personal and financial details of its customers in a 2018 cyber attack.
  • It is the largest fine ever issued by the ICO.
Jack Taylor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

LONDON — British Airways has been fined £20 million ($26 million) by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in the U.K. over a data breach in 2018 that left the personal and financial details of 429,612 BA customers exposed.

Following an investigation spanning almost two years, the ICO concluded that British Airways did not have sufficient security measures in place to process significant amounts of personal data.

The regulator said the failure broke data protection law.

While the fine is less than the £183 million the ICO said it would issue in 2019, it is still the largest-fine ever issued by the watchdog, which said the "economic impact of Covid-19" had to be taken into account.

The attacker is believed to have accessed the names, addresses, payment card numbers and CVV numbers of 244,000 British Airways customers.

A further 77,000 customers had their combined card and CVV numbers accessed, and an additional 108,000 customers had just their card numbers accessed.

The regulator said that the usernames and passwords of up to 612 BA Executive Club members may also have been compromised.

It took British Airways more than two months to realize it had suffered a data breach.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said in a statement: "People entrusted their personal details to BA and BA failed to take adequate measures to keep those details secure."

"Their failure to act was unacceptable and affected hundreds of thousands of people, which may have caused some anxiety and distress as a result. That's why we have issued BA with a £20 million fine – our biggest to date."

"When organizations take poor decisions around people's personal data, that can have a real impact on people's lives. The law now gives us the tools to encourage businesses to make better decisions about data, including investing in up-to-date security."

A British Airways spokesperson told CNBC: "We alerted customers as soon as we became aware of the criminal attack on our systems in 2018 and are sorry we fell short of our customers' expectations.

"We are pleased the ICO recognizes that we have made considerable improvements to the security of our systems since the attack and that we fully co-operated with its investigation."