Airline Fined $229 Million for Data Breach

John Lister's picture

An airline faces a fine of more than $200 million after its customers were hit by a hacking scandal. Around 500,000 worldwide customers of British Airways were affected by the breach.

British Airways reported the breach in September last year. It doesn't appear that the hackers were able to get into BA's system and take any customer data that way. Instead, traffic to the site was hijacked.

The attack is believed to have begun last June and involved the hackers exploiting security flaws in the design of BA's site. They were able to intercept traffic to the site and redirect visitors to a bogus site that was under their control.

Data Intercepted

Once there, victims unwittingly handed over a host of valuable and sensitive data including names, addresses, details of booking, log-in details for the real BA site, and details of payment cards including credit cards.

While the full details aren't available, it appears the hackers may have been able to intercept the data while relaying it back to the real site. That meant customer bookings and payments still went through to BA, delaying the time it took for the breach to be detected.

The United Kingdom's Information Commissioner investigated the breach and found BA's failure to secure its site meant it had broken the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). That's a law that affects any business that operates in a European Union country or has customers in an EU country.

The Information Commissioner says it plans to fine BA £183.39 million, equivalent to US$229.59 million. The figure has shocked BA and analysts alike as the previous record fine issued by the Information Commissioner was just $500,000.

Fine Could Pay For Plane

The amount represents 1.5 percent of BA's annual revenue, so is still someway short of the maximum penalty under GDPR of four percent of annual revenue. While it appears to be coincidence, The Register notes that the fine matches the cost of a single 747-400 plane of the type widely used by BA. (Source:

BA now has 28 days to argue against the size of the fine before it's finalized. It plans to do so and says it was surprised the fine was so high as it cooperated with the investigation. It also says there is no evidence the stolen card details were actually used, though some customers believe that's not the case. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Is the size of the fine appropriate? Is it right to base fines on a company's revenue rather than impose a flat amount? Does it matter that the stolen card details weren't used?

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Jim's picture

The fine is absurdly out of proportion. Even if BA was negligent, there is no good rationalization for a fine of this magnitude.

ronangel1's picture

You are right about size of the fine.All that will happen is fares will go up to cover cost.

kitekrazy's picture

No one ever seems to have that answer.

ronbh's picture

This is typical for the EU
When they enforce something they want the offender (victim) to feel pain.
Fines in the EU in many cases depend on the wealth (real or perceived) of the offender. Look up some of the fines for speeding that are levied in europe.
Also look at the size of the fines they have hit Google with.
In light of the oppressive nature of the EU bureaucrats this fine is not out of line.
I also feel that Brexit has more than a little to do with the size of the fine.

russoule's picture

Please note that it was a BRITISH agency that investigated and is proposing he fine, NOT the EU.

However, it may very well be that the agency's head is against the BREXIT and is using this as a means to punish the British public for voting for it.