Sony ICO Fine: Damage Was Already Done

This week tech and games giant Sony, was hit with a nifty £250k fine from the UK's Information Commissioners Office (ICO).  This was in response to Sony being hacked back in April 2011, in a situation which exposed millions of customer records - including credit card details -  for users of the Play Station Network (PSN).  The ICO stated that Sony failed to act in accordance with the Data Protection Act, for which as a data controller, it must do, to certain standards of information protection.

The incident itself proved to be a logistical and PR nightmare, costing Sony an estimated $171m in lost revenue, legal and fix up costs.  Whilst the fine by the ICO is insignificant to the actual cost of the damage done nearly two years ago, it acts as a timely reminder that every significant data breach by a data controller, will be investigated, with any irregularity identified, and appropriate accountability applied.

The ICO has the ability to fine organisations up to half a million pounds for data controller irregularities, which may seem like small change to the likes of corporate giants such as Sony.  However, the ICO has a broad range of users to keep in check, from public sector, education and health care providers, right through to start-ups and corporate machines, where £500k is not insignificant.

The use of the ICO as a security enabler in this case obviously did little, as the breach occurred and the aftermath needed thorough investigation.  However, the damage to the Sony brand, customer dissatisfaction and the internal security recovery costs would not have been unknown.  All three could and should have been used as a bare metal driver for implementing the appropriate information security steps, such as patching, auditing and management of database security best practises.

Whilst information security is seen as a nice to have, it inevitably has budget restraints to work against, with business justification a constant balancing act to manage.  As areas such as information security metrics and security-RoI measures are used to help justify the tangible gains from a succinct information security policy, it is often the intangible damage that can occur from breaches and data loss which is higher.

Whilst intangible costs such as brand damage, confidence levels and user satisfaction are often hard to quantify, that isn't to say they shouldn't be taken into account when analyzing appropriate risk mitigation strategies.

The case with Sony, painfully highlights the financial and brand damage costs a significant data breach can have, which should act as a powerful use case for organisations looking to either reduce or avoid implementing up to date and robust information security practises when it comes to personal or credit card information.