UK fines Sony $395K for 2011 PlayStation hack

The UK's Information Commissioner's Office has fined Sony Computer Entertainment Europe for the PlayStation Network data breach in April 2011, which it says was preventable.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) Europe Limited has been fined £250,000 (US$395,775) by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in the UK, following the massive hacking of Sony's PlayStation Network (PSN) in 2011 that saw million of users' personal data leaked.

The monetary penalty on Sony comes after the "serious breach of the Data Protection Act," the ICO said in a statement on Thursday.

When the Sony PlayStation Network (PSN) was hacked in April 2011, it compromised the personal information of millions of customers, including names, addresses, e-mail addresses, dates of birth, and account passwords. Customers' payment card details were also at risk, the ICO said.

"An ICO investigation found that the attack could have been prevented if the software had been up to date, while technical developments also meant passwords were not secure," it added.

"If you are responsible for so many payment card details and log-in details, then keeping that personal data secure has to be your priority. In this case that just didn't happen, and when the database was targeted--albeit in a determined criminal attack--the security measures in place were simply not good enough," David Smith, deputy commissioner and director of data protection, said in the statement.

"There's no disguising that this is a business that should have known better. It is a company that trades on its technical expertise, and there's no doubt in my mind that they had access to both the technical knowledge and the resources to keep this information safe."

Smith also said the penalty issued is "clearly substantial, but we make no apologies for that."

"Companies certainly need to get their act together but we all need to be careful about who we disclose our personal information to."
- David Smith, ICO

"The case is one of the most serious ever reported to us. It directly affected a huge number of consumers, and at the very least put them at risk of identity theft. If there's any bright side to this, it's that a PR Week poll shortly after the breach found the case had left 77 percent of consumers more cautious about giving their personal details to other websites. Companies certainly need to get their act together but we all need to be careful about who we disclose our personal information to," he noted.

According to the ICO, Sony has rebuilt its network platform to ensure that the personal information it processes is kept secure.

In September 2011, Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim said SCE Australia did not breach the country's Privacy Act. SCE Australia is a subsidiary of SCE Europe.

On the ICO's penalty imposed on Sony, Ross Parsell, head of cyber security at Thales UK, said the ICO is taking security breaches "very seriously."

"If you are a high-profile customer facing organisation, it is time to review your security procedures to ensure you are taking the necessary steps to secure the sensitive details of consumers. If you don't, there is a high chance you could be the next company the ICO makes an example of."

Organizations need to rethink their approach to information security and take care to classify and protect data itself according to the sensitivity of that information, he advised.

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