BUPA fined 175,000 pounds for data protection failures

October 3, 2018 |

As Bupa has discovered, data breaches caused by employee misbehaviour can be as devastating for an organisation as a cyber attack.  A rogue Bupa employee accessed and sold onto the dark web personal information of Bupa’s customers.  When it was discovered by a third party the Information Commissioner investigated and found systemic failures and non compliance with data security.  That is a common outcome.  The breach is generally bad however the investigation usually turns up more than just one problem with an organisation’s data security.  As was the case with Bupa.  There were systemic failures on both a technical level and in its organisational structure.  That was clear given the breaches occurred from 19 December 2013 to 18 June 2017. It was widely reported in July 2017 (here, here and here) including affecting nearly 20,000 Australians which required an embarrassing statement:

This matter does not relate to Bupa’s Australian Health Insurance business and the four million customers we support in this country.

It relates to Bupa’s international health insurance division, ‘Bupa Global’.

Bupa Global is the division of Bupa which handles international health insurance mainly for customers who work overseas or travel on a regular basis.

It is important to point out that this was not a cyber attack or external data breach.

It was deliberate act by an employee in the UK who had no access to customer data for the Bupa Australia Health Insurance business, which is kept on separate systems.

The data does not include financial or medical data, however our Bupa Global team ( based in the UK) is taking this incident very seriously and has been contacting affected international health insurance customers.

We encourage anyone who is concerned to visit www.bupa.com/bupaglobalcustomerupdate where more information is available.

Worldwide, 547,000 Bupa Global private health insurance customers are affected. Bupa Global has 1.4 million international health customers in total.

Of these, we believe approximately 19,595 are Australian Bupa Global customers, who we are contacting.

The Information Commissioner’s media release relevantly provides:

Bupa Insurance Services Limited (Bupa) has been fined £175,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for failing to have effective security measures in place to protect customers’ personal information.

Between 6 January and 11 March 2017, a Bupa employee was able to extract the personal information of 547,000 Bupa Global customers and offer it for sale on the dark web.

The employee accessed the information via Bupa’s customer relationship management system, known as SWAN. The system holds customer records relating to 1.5 million people.

The employee sent bulk data reports to his personal email account. The compromised information, which included names, dates of birth, email addresses and nationality, was later offered for sale on the dark web.

ICO Director of Investigations, Steve Eckersley, said:

“Bupa failed to recognise that people’s personal data was at risk and failed to take reasonable steps to secure it.

“Our investigation found material inadequacies in the way Bupa safeguarded personal data. The inadequacies were systemic and appear to have gone unchecked for a long time. On top of that, the ICO’s investigation found no satisfactory explanation for them.”

Bupa was alerted to the breach on 16 June 2017 by an external partner who spotted customer data for sale.

Bupa and the ICO received 198 complaints about the incident. The rogue employee was dismissed and Sussex Police issued a warrant for his arrest.

The ICO’s investigation found that, at the time, Bupa did not routinely monitor SWAN’s activity log. Bupa was unaware of a defect in the system and was unable to detect unusual activity, such as bulk extractions of data. Failing to keep personal data secure is a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.

It revealed systemic failures in Bupa’s technical and organisational measures which also left 1.5 million records at risk for a long time.

Due to the timing of this case, it was dealt with under the provisions and maximum penalties of the Data Protection Act 1998, and not the General Data Protection Regulation and 2018 Act which replaced it in May this year.

The Information Commissioner’s Monetary Penalty Notice noted at paragraph 36 that:

  1. As described above, the data controller provided PAT members and 1,351 other users with access to large volumes of its customers’ personal data through SWAN. It did not undertake any adequate risk assessment of those features of SWAN. That was a material organisational inadequacy, given the volume of personal data accessible through SWAN, the number of data subjects involved, the number of individuals with access to SWAN, and the ease with which they could access ¡t.
  2. 20 PAT members were also able to make searches, view large numbers of customer records at a time and export data to separate applications and files including file sharing platforms and social media. Those capabilities facílitated potential large-scale misuse of the relevant personal data over a short períod of time. There was no adequate justification for those capabilities.
  3. The data controller failed to monitor its activity log (which was defective) in order to check for activity of concern, such as bulk extractions of data.

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