A £183m fine levied on British Airways for a data breach has been reduced to £20m after investigators took into account the airline’s financial plight and the circumstances of the cyber-attack.

The £20m fine is nonetheless the biggest ever issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), following the 2018 incident in which more than 400,000 customers’ personal details were compromised by hackers.

The initial £183m fine announced last year was reduced after investigators accepted BA’s representations about the attack and also noted the dire financial position of BA since the onset of Covid-19.

Investigators found BA had failed to put sufficient security measures in place to protect its customers’ details. The airline took more than two months to detect the cyber-attack, which started in June 2018.

The information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, said BA failed to take adequate measures to keep customers’ personal details secure.

“Their failure to act was unacceptable and affected hundreds of thousands of people, which may have caused some anxiety and distress as a result. That’s why we have issued BA with a £20m fine – our biggest to date,” she said.

“When organisations take poor decisions around people’s personal data, that can have a real impact on people’s lives.”

The BA case was the first major one to be carried out under toughened data laws that allow for far heavier fines as a proportion of a company’s turnover than had previously been the case.

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The ICO found BA ought to have identified weaknesses in its security, and could have resolved them with security measures available at the time. Of the approximately 430,000 customers and staff affected by the breach, about 244,000 people had their full name, addresses and payment card details, including the CVV security number, exposed.

A BA spokesman said: “We alerted customers as soon as we became aware of the criminal attack on our systems in 2018 and are sorry we fell short of our customers’ expectations.

“We are pleased the ICO recognises that we have made considerable improvements to the security of our systems since the attack and that we fully cooperated with its investigation.”

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