FCA fines Tesco Bank £16.4m for failures in 2016 cyber attack

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has fined Tesco Personal Finance plc (Tesco Bank) £16,400,000 for failing to exercise due skill, care and diligence in protecting its personal current account holders against a cyber attack. The cyber attack took place in November 2016. 

Cyber attackers exploited deficiencies in Tesco Bank’s design of its debit card, its financial crime controls and in its Financial Crime Operations Team to carry out the attack. Those deficiencies left Tesco Bank’s personal current account holders vulnerable to a largely avoidable incident that occurred over 48 hours and which netted the cyber attackers £2.26m.

Mark Steward, Executive Director of Enforcement and Market Oversight at the FCA, said:

'The fine the FCA imposed on Tesco Bank today reflects the fact that the FCA has no tolerance for banks that fail to protect customers from foreseeable risks. In this case, the attack was the subject of a very specific warning that Tesco Bank did not properly address until after the attack started. This was too little, too late. Customers should not have been exposed to the risk at all. 

'Banks must ensure that their financial crime systems and the individuals who design and operate them work to substantially reduce the risk of such attacks occurring in the first place. The standard is one of resilience, reducing the risk of a successful cyber attack occurring in the first place, not only reacting to an attack. Subsequently, Tesco Bank has strengthened its controls with the object of preventing this type of incident from being repeated.'

Principle 2 requires a firm to conduct its business with due skill, care and diligence. Tesco Bank is in the business of banking and fundamental to that business is protecting its customers from financial crime. 

The FCA found that Tesco Bank breached Principle 2 because it failed to exercise due skill, care and diligence to:

  • Design and distribute its debit card.
  • Configure specific authentication and fraud detection rules.
  • Take appropriate action to prevent the foreseeable risk of fraud.
  • Respond to the November 2016 cyber attack with sufficient rigour, skill and urgency. 

Cyber security requires resilience. A financial institution’s board is ultimately responsible for ensuring that its cyber crime controls are designed to meet standards of resilience. The board must set an appropriate cyber crime risk appetite and ensure that its institution’s cyber-crime controls are designed to anticipate and reduce the risk of a successful attack. Where an attack is successful, the board should ensure that the bank’s response plans are clear, well designed and well-rehearsed and that the bank recovers quickly from the incident.  Following an attack the financial institution should commission a root cause analysis and understand and ameliorate the vulnerabilities that made the institution susceptible to the attack to reduce the risk of future attacks.

Following the attack, Tesco Bank immediately put in place a comprehensive redress programme and devoted significant resources to improving the deficiencies that left the bank vulnerable to the attack and instituted a comprehensive review of its financial crime controls. It has made significant improvements both to enhance its financial crime systems and controls and the skills of the individuals who operate them.

Tesco Bank provided a high level of cooperation to the FCA. Through a combination of this level of cooperation, its comprehensive redress programme which fully compensated customers, and in acknowledgment that it stopped a significant percentage of unauthorised transactions, the FCA granted the bank 30% credit for mitigation. In addition, Tesco Bank agreed to an early settlement of this matter which qualified for a 30% (Stage 1) discount under the FCA’s executive settlement procedure. But for the mitigation credit and the Stage 1 discount, the FCA would have imposed a penalty of £33,562,400.

Notes to editors

  1. The Final Notice for Tesco Personal Finance plc.
  2. The FCA, Prudential Regulation Authority and Bank of England published a joint discussion paper, Building the UK financial sector’s operational resilience (July 2018).  The discussion paper emphasises their focus on operational resilience.   Following the Financial Policy Committee of the Bank of England, the DP provides notes that: Effective resilience requires firms to be able to: prevent material incidents from occurring; continue to provide services and functions in the event of an incident; prevent an increase in the level of fraud during an incident; return to normal operations promptly when the incident is over; and learn from incidents, in order to limit the chances of them happening again in future. Firms have primary responsibility for their ability to resist and recover from cyber incidents. The supervisory authorities expect boards to take responsibility for the cyber resilience of their firms”.  DP18/4: Building the UK financial sector’s operational resilience
  3. On 1 April 2013, the FCA became responsible for the conduct supervision of all regulated financial firms and the prudential supervision of those not supervised by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA).
  4. The FCA has an overarching strategic objective of ensuring the relevant markets function well. To support this, it has three operational objectives: to secure an appropriate degree of protection for consumers; to protect and enhance the integrity of the UK financial system; and to promote effective competition in the interests of consumers.
  5. Find out more information about the FCA.