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Case Studies

Sony fined £250k

The entertainment company Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Limited has been fined £250,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after what the watchdog terms a serious breach of the Data Protection Act.

This is one of the larger fines by the ICO; the February print issue of Professional Security magazine features three cases of local government data security lapses, which each led to five-figure fines.

The penalty comes after the Sony PlayStation Network Platform was hacked in April 2011, compromising the personal information of millions of customers, including their names, addresses, email addresses, dates of birth and account passwords. Customers’ payment card details were also at risk.

The ICO says it found that the attack could have been prevented if the software had been up-to-date, while technical developments also meant passwords were not secure.

David Smith, Deputy Commissioner and Director of Data Protection, said: “If you are responsible for so many payment card details and log-in details then keeping that personal data secure has to be your priority. In this case that just didn’t happen, and when the database was targeted – albeit in a determined criminal attack – the security measures in place were simply not good enough.

“There’s no disguising that this is a business that should have known better. It is a company that trades on its technical expertise, and there’s no doubt in my mind that they had access to both the technical knowledge and the resources to keep this information safe.

“The penalty we’ve issued today is clearly substantial, but we make no apologies for that. The case is one of the most serious ever reported to us. It directly affected a huge number of consumers, and at the very least put them at risk of identity theft.

“If there’s any bright side to this it’s that a PR Week poll shortly after the breach found the case had left 77 per cent of consumers more cautious about giving their personal details to other websites. Companies certainly need to get their act together but we all need to be careful about who we disclose our personal information to.”

After the breach, Sony has rebuilt its Network Platform. Several Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on various online networks of the Sony group led to theft of customer data such as names and account passwords. As the company had seen several previous DDoS attacks, it should have anticipated more, the watchdog said. The watchdog did not say how many million customers were affected. If the company pays by February 13, the fine is only £200,000.

On the news about Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, Ross Parsell, Head of Cyber Security at Thales UK said that basic lessons on information security are not being learned. He said: “A perimeter-based approach to security based around firewalls and defensive controls around the IT network is no longer sufficient. Organisations need to rethink their approach to information security and take care to classify and protect data itself according to the sensitivity of that information. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) criticised the Sony for having outdated security software. This is indicative of the checkbox mentally many organisations have towards security. We live in as world were online threats evolve at a rapid rate, and if companies want to stay one step in front of the criminal, they need to adopt a holistic approach to maturing their security posture on a continual basis. The ICO is taking security breaches very seriously. If you are a high profile customer facing organisation, it is time to review your security procedures to ensure you are taking the necessary steps to secure the sensitive details of consumers. If you don’t, there is a high chance you could be the next company the ICO makes an example of.”


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