MSE News

Equifax fined £500,000 for failing to protect customer data

Credit reference agency Equifax has been fined £500,000 following an investigation into a hack last year, which compromised more than 15 million UK customer records. 

The data hack targeted Equifax's parent company in the US between 13 May and 30 July 2017 and affected 146 million customers worldwide. According to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), 657,423 UK customers had personal details – such as phone numbers and driving license details – compromised, while a total of 15 million records containing names and birth dates were also accessed.

Crucially, Equifax doesn't just hold data on customers who've used its credit report services, as it gathers information from the publicly available electoral roll, court records, previous credit searches and account data shared by banks, building societies, utility companies and other organisations – so some could have been affected even if they'd never heard of the firm before.

The investigation, which was carried out by the ICO and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), said that the UK arm of Equifax had failed to make sure the US company was protecting the data of its UK customers.

Check what to do if you were affected by the Equifax hack, and see our Stop Scams guide for more info on keeping your data safe.

What did the investigation find?

The ICO found that customer data was kept for longer than necessary, and was left vulnerable to hackers due to multiple failures in IT systems and auditing.

It also said that the US Department of Homeland Security had warned Equifax about vulnerabilities in its systems in March 2017 before the hack, but that Equifax had not taken sufficient steps to address this.

Elizabeth Denham, information commissioner at the ICO, said: "We are determined to look after UK citizens' information wherever it is held.

"Equifax Ltd has received the highest fine possible under the 1998 legislation because of the number of victims, the type of data at risk and because it has no excuse for failing to adhere to its own policies and controls as well as the law."

She added: "Many of the people affected would not have been aware the company held their data; learning about the cyber attack would have been unexpected and is likely to have caused particular distress."

The investigation was carried out under the Data Protection Act 1998, rather than the current GDPR rules, as the failings happened before the stricter rules came into force in May this year. Under the new rules the ICO can fine companies up to £17 million or 4% of global turnover.

What does Equifax say?

An Equifax spokesperson said: "Equifax has cooperated fully with the ICO throughout its investigation and we are disappointed in the findings and the penalty.

"As the ICO makes clear in its report, Equifax has successfully implemented a broad range of measures to prevent the recurrence of such criminal incidents and it acknowledges the strengthened procedures which are now in effect.

"The criminal cyberattack against our US parent company last year was a pivotal moment for our company. We apologise again to any consumers who were put at risk."