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 ICO website has advice on how to keep IT systems safe and secure under the new Act.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018, the GDPR, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
  3. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new law which applies in the UK from 25 May 2018. Its provisions are included in the Data Protection Act 2018. The Act also includes measures related to wider data protection reforms in areas not covered by GDPR, such as law enforcement and security. The UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.
  4. The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit. The ICO has the power under the Data Protection Act 2018 to impose a civil monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £17million (20m Euro) or 4% of global turnover. Under the 1998 Act, the maximum financial penalty is £500,000.
  5. Under the GDPR, the data protection principles set out the main responsibilities for organisations. Article 5 of the GDPR requires that personal data shall be:
    • Processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to individuals;
    • Collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes;
    • Adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed;
    • Accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date;
    • Kept in a form which permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary; and
    • Processed using appropriate technical or organisational measures in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data.
    • Article 5(2) requires that “the controller shall be responsible for, and be able to demonstrate, compliance with the principles.”
  6. A limited number of civil and criminal enforcement cases – including this case - are still being dealt with under the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 because of the date the breach of the legislation occurred. The maximum penalty in those cases is £500,000.
  7. Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
  8. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by ICO.
  9. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.