"A drop in the ocean": Industry pros react to TalkTalk data breach fine

Following yesterday's news that the Information Commissioner's Office has levied a record £400,000 fine against TalkTalk for the security breach it suffered in 2015, various industry professionals have offered their reaction and analysis.

Gunter Ollmann, CSO at Vectra Networks: 

“The fine is an illustration of the teeth the ICO has when it comes to punishing lax data security, and its determination to use them when companies come up short. But the fine today does not reflect the additional bottom-line impact of reputational damage, lost customers, as well as the cost of measures to shore up IT security around the original vulnerability.

“More autonomous, behaviour-based threat monitoring can prevent a repeat of the same type of attack for any company, without requiring a major capital investment in more IT security staff. This new type of security approach uses innovation like machine learning to keep pace with changing attacks, improving on traditional solutions by allowing both known and unknown malware and attack vectors to be spotted.

“The severity of the hack attack on TalkTalk, had it happened two years from now, could have triggered even more punitive fines from the EU. Under the forthcoming EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the fines could have been much higher – up to four per cent of worldwide turnover. In the case of TalkTalk, that could have been £72 million based on 2015 turnover. In that respect, the company has got off lightly.”

 Chris Hodson, CISO EMEA, Zscaler:

“The record breaking fine imposed on TalkTalk is merely a drop in the ocean. If the breach was to take place after GDPR had been enforced, the severity of the penalty would have been significantly more damaging. With the risk of personal information reaching the public domain, organisations need to step up and ensure that they are accountable for personal data.

“Despite TalkTalk’s technical and operational failings, they overestimated the extent of the breach, perhaps in an attempt to placate the regulators or lessen the punishment. The extent of the fine seems to suggest this has had little bearing on the consequences.

“As the sheer volume of this data explodes with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), businesses must ensure that they have a thorough understanding of where their data resides. The risk to data, if the necessary security controls aren’t in place, means the likelihood of a data breach is only going to increase.

“Businesses must take action now. If they don’t, the future will see them facing fines of up to 4 per cent of their global revenue - that will run into the millions, not hundreds of thousands."

Jes Breslaw, EMEA director of strategy, Delphix:

“The TalkTalk hack stands as a reminder of the sensitivity of unmasked data. Customer-sensitive data such as credit card numbers and bank details are a lucrative money-spinner for criminals on the dark web. In this instance the hack went unnoticed for a prolonged period, increasing the value of the data to fraudsters, and triggering a hefty fine.

“Had the EU’s GDPR been in operation, that fine could have been in the region of £70 million, based on four per cent of annual worldwide turnover for the year in question.

“In either case, the key thing is that organisations holding financial and sensitive customer data need to mask it to prevent repeats of this kind of breach. Doing so will limit the risk to brand reputation, as well as ensuring customers don’t find themselves facing unexpected fraud and identity theft.

“The problem of masking both production and test data is that it has traditionally been an expensive and complex task. In order to overcome this barrier, companies need to consider leveraging technologies which allow them to scale data masking such as data virtualisation.

Richard Stiennon, Chief Strategy Officer at Blancco Technology Group:

“Even when there are no explicit laws or regulations you have to comply with best practices. In 2015, TalkTalk's website was compromised by SQL injection, a SANS top 20 vulnerability. The UK Information Commissioner has just imposed a record fine for not taking basic precautions.

"The lesson learned here:  Every organisation must practice good security.  Good security is not codified in any legislation or regulatory regime, although there are many frameworks that help demonstrate an organisation's seriousness about being secure.

"But even ISO 27001 does not explicitly state that a website should not be vulnerable to SQL injection. It is up to every organisation to stay abreast of industry best practices and implement them.” 

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