The UK's data protection watchdog has fined Cathay Pacific Airways Limited 500,000 pounds for failing to protect the security of its customers' personal data. Between October 2014 and May 2018, Cathay Pacific's computer systems lacked appropriate security measures which led to the exposure of personal data of approximately 9.4 million customers worldwide -- 111,578 of whom were from the UK.
The airline's failure to secure its systems resulted in the unauthorised access to their passengers' personal details including names, passport and identity details, dates of birth, postal and email addresses, phone numbers and historical travel information, said the UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) on Wednesday.
Cathay Pacific became aware in March 2018
Cathay Pacific became aware of suspicious activity in March 2018 when its database was subjected to a brute force attack, where numerous passwords or phrases are submitted with the hope of eventually guessing correctly. The incident led Cathay Pacific to employ a cybersecurity firm, and they subsequently reported the incident to the ICO.
The ICO found Cathay Pacific's systems were entered via a server connected to the Internet and malware was installed to harvest data. A catalogue of errors was found during the ICO's investigation including back-up files that were not password protected; unpatched Internet-facing servers; use of operating systems that were no longer supported by the developer and inadequate anti-virus protection.
ICO investigated the case under the Data Protection Act 1998
"People rightly expect when they provide their personal details to a company, that those details will be kept secure to ensure they are protected from any potential harm or fraud. That simply was not the case here," Steve Eckersley, ICO Director of Investigations, said in a statement. "This breach was particularly concerning given the number of basic security inadequacies across Cathay Pacific's system, which gave easy access to the hackers," Eckersley said.
Due to the timing of these incidents, the ICO investigated this case under the Data Protection Act 1998. The far more stringent General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect in 2018. "A breach like this is so avoidable and like with many incidents, was caused by a combination of both human error and malicious activity. The fact that such a number of basic security protocols were clearly missed in this situation is quite alarming and also embarrassing for the company," said Shlomie Liberow, Technical Programme Manager for HackerOne, a vulnerability coordination and bug bounty platform.