Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/01/24/dell_data_breach/

Dell's slow response to straying data

All too familiar sinking feelings

By Kelly Fiveash

Posted in Data Centre, 24th January 2008 12:33 GMT

A Dell customer is complaining to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) after a serious data breach led to his confidential details being posted to the wrong address.

Stuart Nathaniel told The Register that Dell had failed to swiftly deal with the blunder despite the fact that he was seeking reassurances that the information – which included his bank account details, signature and debit card number – had not been circulated elsewhere.

Nathaniel, who lives in Leeds, only learned of the problem after the person who wrongly received his details contacted him about the data breach in December last year.

The computer giant's financial services team mistakenly sent his fixed sum loan agreement documents to a man with an entirely different surname who lives in Ireland.

But even though the screw-up could have led to identity theft if the information had fallen into the wrong hands, Nathaniel told us that Dell has been incredibly slow to ease his concerns.

Dell eventually confirmed to Nathaniel on 19 December that the financial services firm CIT which handles the computer maker's customer accounts, was in fact responsible for the security blunder.

The CIT has since contacted him to discuss the possibility of compensation, but Nathaniel told us he still plans to formally complain to the ICO about the data breach.

Although Dell has a global privacy policy regarding customer data, it does not extend to its financial services affiliates.

El Reg asked Dell to explain its data protection policy. We also asked it to tell us how the mistake could have happened, whether the incident was an isolated one, and what checks and balances it was putting in place to prevent such a problem from recurring.

Dell came back to us with a lengthy statement in which it underlined its "serious" commitment to data protection law.

The computer giant said that standards and controls were in place to ensure that the likes of record management, security, password and IT policies were robustly followed by its staff, each of whom are contractually obliged to follow the rules.

It said: "All of our employees are told that 'each of us owns compliance to data protection laws,' and, 'that each of us is held responsible for respecting these policies'."

Dell said it likes to try and impose the same level of security to its affiliates, but added that some negotiation with third parties over the terms of privacy agreements was often required.

Meanwhile, CIT has accepted that a "human error" had occurred that caused Nathaniel's confidential data to be sent to the wrong address.

CIT said in a statement: "This was an isolated incident attributable to human error and as a direct result of this situation, CIT has reviewed its internal procedures in a concerted effort to ensure that this kind of error does not occur in the future.

"We take our responsibility towards personal information very seriously and it is of the greatest importance to us to maintain the privacy of our customers and the integrity of our data." ®