Security

Watchdog bites hotel booking site: Over 3k card details slurped

SQL flaw ‘oldest trick in the book' – ICO

Fawlty Towers

Hotel booking website Worldview Limited has been fined £7,500 over a security breach involving its website that allowed hackers to swipe the full payment card details of some 3,814 customers.

Sensitive data was accessed after the unidentified attacker exploited a SQL injection flaw in Worldview website to access the firm's customer database. Although customers’ payment details had been encrypted, the means to decrypt the information — the decryption key — was stored with the data, according to a subsequent investigation by privacy watchdogs at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The combination of security mistakes allowed cybercrooks to access the customers’ full card details, including the three digit security code needed to authorise payments.

"The weakness had existed on the website since May 2010 and was only uncovered during a routine update on 28 June 2013," according to a statement by the ICO on the case. "The attackers had access to the information for ten days. The company has now corrected the flaw and has invested in improving its IT security systems."

Worldview Limited would have received a £75,000 penalty but the ICO was required to consider the firm’s financial situation, before deciding to levy a much less severe fine that didn't run the risk of putting the company out of business.

Simon Rice, ICO Group Manager for Technology, said Worldview's misfortune offers lessons for other e-commerce businesses, especially when it comes to safeguarding against SQL injection attacks.

"SQL injection attacks are preventable but organisations need to spend the necessary time and effort to make sure their website isn’t vulnerable," Rice said. "Worldview failed to do this, allowing the card details of over three thousand customers to be compromised."

"Organisations must act now to avoid one of the oldest hackers’ tricks in the book. If you don’t have the expertise in-house, then find someone who does, otherwise you may be the next organisation on the end of an ICO fine and the reputational damage that results from a serious data breach," Rice added.

A blog post by the ICO explaining how an SQL injection attack works and how organisations can protect themselves against common hacker attacks can be found here. A more complete 47 page online security guide from the ICO is here (PDF).

Paul Ayers, EMEA veep at data security expert Vormetric, said Worldview's misfortunes also highlighted the need for better encryption key management.

"Driven by regulatory compliance requirements and highly visible publicly disclosed security breaches, many of today’s businesses are eagerly looking to encryption controls for data security," Ayers explained. "However, most are doing so on an ad hoc basis, with no central oversight or long-term strategy in place."

"As this case crucially demonstrates, unmanaged encryption keys can pose a critical risk to data – and a real risk to an organisation’s lifeblood," he added. ®

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