Saturday, March 22, 2014

What part of "Operator" don't you understand?

In case you didn't follow Korea's latest hacking scandals, the personal data of 9.81 million KT customers have recently been leaked. For the operator, that's a significant improvement since the previous failure (only 8.7 million victims in 2012).

Imagine receiving this charming letter: oops, we did it again. We just found out that we let a few pieces of information reach the wrong hands. No biggie: just your name, your resident number, your phone number, the number and validity date of the credit card with which you pay your bills, your address, your customer number, your subscription information, your subscribed plan, you know, that kind of boring details. Any call from telemarketers lately?


We do apologize. Really.
KT risks a KRW 100 M fine, which may sound impressive if you're not familiar with local currencies, but amounts to a slaponthewristic USD 92,600 nowadays. Furthermore, as a government official quoted by Yonhap deplores*, "unlike credit card-related rules, the country's telecom law does not acknowledge that data leakage is a financial mishap that causes damage to customers' personal assets (...) - a business suspension is not an option unless KT has collected personal data without users' consent." Needless to say customer associations have gone nuclear, tens of groups considering class actions**.

SK Telecom, the undisputed market leader (including in terms of hacking with 35 million victims in August 2011), frugally celebrated its main rival's predicament by crashing its own network for only 5.6 million customers on Thursday***.

I may sound like I'm making fun of Korea's #1 and #2 operators (well maybe I am), but that's to exorcise my fears. Deep down I'm in a cold sweat. As a customer, but also - in a former life - as a former executive for a leading operator: that's the kind of business where security is paramount, and an obligation if you want to get or to keep a license. And in big data times, you want even less the gimchi to hit the fan..



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* see "Gov't mulls fines on KT for data leak, consumers say punishment too weak" (Yonhap News 20140317)
** among which CCEJ, see "KT sued over data leaking" (Korea JoongAng Daily 20140319)
*** "SK mobile network crashes, 5.6 million affected" (Korea JoongAng Daily 20140322)

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