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Heathrow Airport Fined For Losing USB Stick With Unencrypted Data

Duncan MacRae


London Heathrow Airport

The Information Commissioner’s Office fined the airport £120,000 “for serious failings in its data protection”.

Heathrow Airport has been fined £120,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for losing sensitive data contained on a memory stick.

On 16th October 2017, a member of the public found a USB, which had been lost by a Heathrow Airport employee. The stick, which contained 76 folders and more than 1,000, files was not encrypted or password protected. The person who found the device viewed the stored material at a local library.

Security personnel details

Although the amount of personal and sensitive personal data held on the stick comprised a small amount of the total files, of particular concern, was a training video that exposed ten individuals’ details including names, dates of birth, passport numbers, and the details of up to 50 Heathrow Airport aviation security personnel.

The stick was passed to a national newspaper, which took copies of the data before giving the stick back to the airport.

The ICO ruled that Heathrow Airport had failed to ensure that the personal data held on its network was properly secured.

ICO director of investigations, Steve Eckersley, explained: “Data Protection should have been high on Heathrow’s agenda. But our investigation found a catalogue of shortcomings in corporate standards, training and vision that indicated otherwise.

“Data protection is a boardroom issue and it is imperative that businesses have the policies, procedures and training in place to minimise any vulnerabilities of the personal information that has been entrusted to them.”

The ICO investigation found that just 2% of the 6,500-strong workforce had been trained in data protection.

Other concerns noted during the investigation included the widespread use of removable media in contravention of Heathrow Airport’s own policies and guidance and ineffective controls preventing personal data from being downloaded onto unauthorised or unencrypted media.

The airport carried out a number of remedial actions once it was informed of the breach including reporting the matter to the police, acting to contain the incident and engaging a third party specialist to monitor the internet and dark web.

Duncan MacRae


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