Popular gambling site Paddy Power has been heavily criticised after taking an incredible four years to tell 650,000 customers that their personal data has been compromised in a data breach dating back to 2010.
In a website announcement posted on Thursday in advance of customer notification letters, the company sought to play down the incident that only came to light by chance in May 2014 after it took legal action to recover data from an unnamed individual living in Canada after a tip-off.
Once examined, this data turned out to include customer names, web user names, email and home addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth as well as the answers to security questions for 649,055 who joined the service up to 2010.
Account passwords were not compromised and anyone who joined since the time of the breach would not be affected, the company said.
"We take our responsibilities regarding customer data extremely seriously and have conducted an extensive investigation into the breach and the recovered data," claimed the firm's online managing director, Peter O'Donovan.
"That investigation shows that there is no evidence that any customer accounts have been adversely impacted by this breach," he added.
The firm said it had detected what it described as an "attempted" breach of its systems in 2010 but after investigation decided that no financial information or passwords had been lost.
Despite the PR spin, the company's conduct begs some hard questions.
If it detected a data breach in 2010, why did it not inform the authorities or customers at the time? According to the company's account, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner was only told in May 2014, years after the incident.
It will also sound complacent that the firm has sought to dismiss the breach simply because 'only' personal data was lost; customers might point out that while credit card numbers can be changed, names and dates of birth can't. Financial losses resulting from any breach would have been its responsibility.
"It's shocking to see that Paddy Power has waited over four years to inform its users of the cyber-attack on the company, joining the ranks of eBay and Orange France that also waited far too long between a breach and public disclosure," commented George Anderson of security firm Webroot, hitting the nail square on its head.
"Waiting four years isn't just irresponsible, it's senseless," he said.
Clearswift SVP of engineering Maksym Schipka was equally scathing about the firm's behaviour.
"A breach on this scale, combined with the lack of transparency demonstrated by the company will certainly affect its professional reputation," he said. "It implies a huge failure on Paddy Power's behalf to maintain control and protection of its users' critical information."
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