The Cost of not Following the Regulations Around Data

Brent Ozar shared in his weekly links this week a GDPR penalty tracker which makes for thought-provoking reading. Regular readers of this blog will know I have a keen interest in data protection and encryption – on which topic I’ve written a book – so it’s interesting so see some figures of what failing in those areas can cost you.

Here’s a link to the report, though it only goes as far as July 2022 at the time of writing:

The biggest fines (both individually and in total) have been levied for improper use of data, with Amazon, WhatsApp, Google and Facebook topping the list. After that though we have fines for insufficient protection of data. In most cases this is where companies have had some form of data breach and the safeguards in place weren’t deemed sufficient. The largest fine in this case was against British Airways who were hacked in 2018 and they received a fine of over 22 million euros for the lack of safeguards. That was calculated as 1.5% of the company’s turnover in 2017.

In the case of British Airways, the problem was an application vulnerability but there have been other cases where the database (or backups) were accessed directly. In these cases, encryption would have prevented the attack and saved the companies in question fines as well as reputational damage. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, the advances made to the encryption feature set by Microsoft over the last few releases to SQL Server make it a no-brainer to implement encryption on at least your most sensitive data.

Let’s look at some of the summary figures in a bit more detail. Here we see a table of the total fines levied by type of violation:

And the same information in a graph:

We can see the total fines are in the billions, with incorrect processing and inappropriate use of data receiving the highest penalties. Protection of data is of the most interest to me and that comes 4th with around 80 million euros of fines in total (that was across about 200 separate violations) – still a large figure.

Some of the areas that the violations cover are probably outside our remit as DBAs and architects, but in some cases we do have some responsibility for pushing to make sure things are doing correctly.

In terms of following data principles these include (but are not limited to) things like:

  • Data Retention – making sure that personally identifiable data is kept for no longer than required.
  • Data Minimization – making sure we only collect the data we legitimately need.
  • Making sure data is processed securely.
  • We have adequate protection against data loss – things such as backups and checking for corruption.

In terms of illegal data processing, we should call out if we think data is being used for something we don’t have permission to do.

Protection of data where it resides in the database is certainly something we have to own, and shout loudly if things are not being done correctly. This includes having appropriate access controls and thinking about whether it should be encrypted.

One other important takeaway from the GPR tracker is the fact that the number of fines being levied is increasing over time so following the rules around data is continuing to become more and more important.

I should state in closing that this is just a quick post on the subject, and you need to do your own research to understand the rules and how they apply to your role. Many of us (in Europe at least) will have looked at the GDPR in some detail before it came into place, and in many companies, there was flurry of activity to make sure things were up to code. We shouldn’t rest on our laurels though and need to continually think about this stuff.

Finally, if you’re not encrypting your data then you should seriously get that onto your roadmaps. Though of course I’m going to say that as I want you to buy my book!

If this post has helped you, consider buying me a coffee to say thanks.

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