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TORONTO HYDRO ADMITS CUSTOMER DATA BREACH

Source: Toronto Star

Posted on July 28, 2009

      Toronto police have launched an investigation after as many as 179,000 Toronto Hydro customer account numbers were illegally accessed in the company's e-billing system.

      Toronto Hydro says it contacted police early last week after detecting unusual activity in its electronic billing system.

      "We saw some unusual activity on our systems, and whenever there is more than the normal use of our system, the system shuts down and notifies IT staff," said David O'Brien, president and CEO of Toronto Hydro.

      "What was being accessed was the file that contained the customer account number, their name and address. We're very confident it doesn't go deeper than that, no financial information was obtained," said O'Brien

      O'Brien added that the company was concerned the e-billing information would be used to contact customers to improperly obtain personal financial information or payment by credit card. Ontario's privacy commissioner, Dr. Ann Cavoukian, was notified of the breach last Friday and is investigating as well.

      "The last bill to 179,000 customers were accessed online," said Bob Spence, spokesman for the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

      "We've been holding conversations and meeting with senior Hydro officials, and any time a privacy investigation (is) launched, we look at what happened and how it might be prevented."

      O'Brien says all 685,000 Toronto Hydro customers will be receiving letters this week explaining the privacy breach, though the specific customers whose information was breached are not being identified yet.

      "We think it's an important enough issue for all our customers to be aware of, not just those who were affected," said O'Brien.

      "I don't think they are any more vulnerable than anyone else," he said. "We've already told them all, if you get those kind of messages on the phone or door-to-door, ignore them and call us right away."

      "In the cyber-world, its unfortunate that these things happen, but it's the first time in our 100-year-history that something like this has happened."

      Toronto Hydro has issued a general warning to all customers that the company would never contact customers to confirm the accuracy of account or personal information by the phone, or door-to-door.

      A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure said the ministry was aware of the situation and would be monitoring developments.

      The leak of personal information suggests a need for legislation or other safeguards on businesses to better protect consumers, Ontario's New Democrats said.

      "It's a total outrage when the provincial government has been paying lip service to fighting identity theft and a major public utility has exposed close to 200,000 people to that very sort of thing," said NDP consumer protection critic Peter Kormos in an interview.

      "Clearly there have to be some enforceable standards set...to compel bodies like Toronto Hydro so as to protect the information of their customers."

      With standards comes a need for penalties to encourage compliance, added Kormos, a lawyer. "There have to be consequences for bodies that don't protect the standards," the veteran MPP said.




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