Sizable fines assessed for data breaches in 2019 suggest that regulators are getting more serious about organizations that don’t properly protect consumer data. In the UK British Airways was hit with a record $230 million penalty, followed shortly by a $124 million fine for Marriott, while in the US Equifax agreed to pay a minimum of $575 million for its 2017 breach.
This comes after an active 2018. Uber’s poor handling of its 2016 breach cost it close to $150 million. Weakly protected and heavily regulated health data cost medical facilities big that year, too, resulting in the US Department of Health and Human Services collecting increasingly large fines.
Equifax: (At least) $575 Million
2017 saw Equifax lose the personal and financial information of nearly 150 million people due to an unpatched Apache Struts framework in one of its databases. The company had failed to fix a critical vulnerability months after a patch had been issued and then failed to inform the public of the breach for weeks after it been discovered.
In July 2019 the credit agency agreed to pay $575 million — potentially rising to $700 million — in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and all 50 U.S. states and territories over the company’s “failure to take reasonable steps to secure its network.”
$300 million of that will go to a fund providing affected consumers with credit monitoring services (another $125 million will be added if the initial payment is not enough to compensate consumers), $175 million will go to 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and $100 million will go to the CFPB. The settlement also requires the company to obtain third-party assessments of its information security program every two years.
“Companies that profit from personal information have an extra responsibility to protect and secure that data,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “Equifax failed to take basic steps that may have prevented the breach that affected approximately 147 million consumers.”
Equifax had already been fined £500,000 [~$625,000] in the UK for the 2017 breach, which was the maximum fine allowed under the pre-GDPR Data Protection Act 1998.