The Information Commissioner’s Office has fined TalkTalk Telecom Group PLC £100,000 after it failed to look after its customers’ data and risked it falling into the hands of scammers and fraudsters.
An ICO investigation found TalkTalk breached the Data Protection Act because it allowed staff to have access to large quantities of customers’ data. Its lack of adequate security measures left the data open to exploitation by rogue employees.
The breach came to light in September 2014 when TalkTalk started getting complaints from customers that they were receiving scam calls. Typically, the scammers pretended they were providing support for technical problems. They quoted customers’ addresses and TalkTalk account numbers.
The ICO launched an investigation into how customer details – names, addresses, phone numbers and account numbers – were compromised.
The investigation found the issue lay with a TalkTalk portal through which customer information could be accessed. One of the companies with access to the portal was Wipro, a multinational IT services company in India that resolved high level complaints and addressed network coverage problems on TalkTalk’s behalf.
A specialist investigation by TalkTalk identified three Wipro accounts that had been used to gain unauthorised and unlawful access to the personal data of up to 21,000 customers.
Forty Wipro employees had access to data of between 25,000 and 50,000 TalkTalk customers. Staff were able to:
- log in to the portal from any internet-enabled device. No controls were put in place to restrict access to devices linked to Wipro.
- carry out “wildcard” searches – for example, entering “A*” to return all surnames beginning with that letter. This allowed staff to view large numbers of customer records at a time and to export data.
- view up to 500 customer records at a time.