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UK Travel Company Fined After Card Data Hack

UK Travel Company Fined After Hackers Stole Details of 1.1 Million Payment Cards

The United Kingdom's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) announced on Thursday that a UK-based online travel services firm has been fined for failing to protect customers' personal information as required under the Data Proection Act.

Think W3 Limited has been fined £150,000 ($254,000) for a serious data breach in which 1,163,996 credit and debit card records (430,599 valid and 733,397 expired) were accessed by hackers. The company collected personal information through Essential Travel Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary that acts as a booking agent for insurance, airport car parking, and other travel-related services, the data protection watchdog said.

According to the penalty notice, the incident occurred on December 21, 2012, when an attacker exploited an SQL Injection vulnerability on a publicly available login page used for an internally developed car parking system. The system in question was created in 2006, but the company hadn't conducted any security testing on the basis that the website and its underlying Web server were not directly accessible to the public. However, since it was accessible via the Internet to staff for homeworking, the site was also accessible to others with the necessary technical knowledge.

"Having exploited this vulnerability the attacker then proceeded to upload malicious web shells onto the connected web server which gave the attacker administrative access to all of the data held on the web server. These allowed the attacker to access and modify files within ETL's virtual network, including data within the e-commerce application which contained the ETL's customer database and files used to process payment cards," the notice reads.

The attackers managed to obtain payment card numbers, expiry dates, cardholder names, physical addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and postcodes. They had also targeted CVVs, but the information was not stored in the database.

The ICO says there's no evidence that the compromised information has been used for fraudulent transactions.

"This was a staggering lapse that left more than a million holiday makers’ personal details exposed to a malicious hacker," stated Stephen Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO. "Data security should be a top priority for any business that operates online. Think W3 Limited accepted liability for failing to keep their customers’ personal data secure; failing to test their security and failing to delete out-of-date information."

"The public’s awareness of the importance of data protection is rising all the time. Ignorance from data controllers is no excuse. They must take active steps to ensure the personal data they are responsible for is kept safe or face enforcement action and the resulting reputational damage," Eckersley added.

If the firm pays the full amount by August 20, the commissioner will reduce the penalty to £120,000 ($203,000).

Think W3 Limited was acquired in 2010 by the Thomas Cook Group. However, in January 2014, Essential Travel was sold to Holiday Extras. Contacted by SecurityWeek, Holiday Extras representatives clarified that the previous owner of Essential Travel, Thomas Cook, will be paying the fine. The company also reassured customers that all their details are "secured by the highest levels of protection."

"We acquired Essential Travel on 24th January 2014, at which point all payment processing migrated to the main Holiday Extras system.  Security of customer data is one of our top priorities and we continue to invest significantly in this area to ensure customer peace of mind," said Matthew Pack, CEO of Holiday Extras.


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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.