The European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in 2018. The GDPR was a response to massive worldwide data breaches that were undermining the trust and security of private citizens whose personal information was at stake. As this data was exposed by both hackers and, in some cases, simply through poor security measures, governments of the EU felt it was time to create a strong piece of governance to bolster protection. While the initial rollout of GDPR held some uncertainty and unknowns for organisations subject to its guidelines, there is now a much clearer picture of how its standards apply. The punishments for being caught out of compliance can be severe: Violators of the GDPR may be fined up to €20 million or up to 4 percent of the annual worldwide turnover of the preceding financial year in case of an enterprise, whichever is greater.

Cybersecurity is a Priority for the Management

Even with extremely high fines and stringent requirements, GDPR violations and data breaches have been skyrocketing across the world. In 2020, the overall increase of fraudulent activities has been detected, based on ACFE’s “Fraud in the Wake of COVID-19: Benchmarking Report”: 77% of survey participants have seen an increase in the overall level of fraud as of August, compared to 68% who had observed an increase in May. Earlier we wrote how the COVID-19 crisis triggered fraudulent activities and what can businesses do to support anti-fraud movements in their organisations and to strengthen their immunity to fraud. However, cyber-attacks are on the rise – the survey by the continues to show that cybersecurity breaches are a serious threat to all types of businesses and charities. 39% of businesses and 26% of charities reported having cybersecurity breaches or attacks in the last 12 months. Like previous years, this is higher among medium businesses (65%), large businesses (64%) and high-income charities (51%).

The study suggests that the risk level is potentially higher than ever under COVID-19 and that businesses are finding it harder to administer cybersecurity measures during the pandemic: 35% of businesses compared to 40% last year are now deploying security monitoring tools. This reduction suggests that these organisations might simply be less aware than before of the breaches and attacks their staff are facing.

However, among those that have identified breaches or attacks, around 27% of businesses experience them at least once a week. The most common by far are phishing attacks (83%, and 79% in charities), followed by impersonation (for 27% and 23%). Based on a survey by the, despite COVID-19 stretching many organisation’s cybersecurity teams to their limits, cybersecurity remains a priority for management boards. But it has not necessarily become a higher priority under the pandemic. Three-quarters (77%) of businesses say cybersecurity is a high priority for their directors or senior managers, while seven in ten charities (68%) say this of their trustees.

The Most Notable Data Breaches

In the climate where organisations are putting more emphasis on strengthening their online security systems, there is no shortage of data breaches or GDPR violations. Our experts have noticed and shortlisted a few most notable cases in any order for you to be aware:


The very recent case, when travel booking website has been hit with a  €475,000 ($560,000) fine after failing to report a data breach within the time period mandated by the GDPR. It happened back in 2018 when telephone scammers targeted 40 employees at various hotels in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The hackers were able to get login creations for the booking system and to access the personal details of more than 4000 customers who booked hotel rooms via The scammers exposed the credit card details of 283 customers, and in 97 cases the CVV code was also compromised. Based on GDPR, the data breach must be reported within 72 hours. was late for 22 days (!) to report the breach to the Dutch Data Protection Authority and was issued a fine in April 2021, as reported by Forbes.

2. Twitter

Another company that was late to report the security flaw is Twitter – it was discovered in December 2018 but the social media giant did not report it to Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) until the following month. As a result, Twitter has been told to pay a €450,000 GDPR fine by Ireland’s data regulator for failing to report a 2018 data breach in the legally required timeframe. The DPC also determined that Twitter failed to adequately document the breach, another requirement under GDPR.

3. Vodafone

The firm that has been warned or fined smaller amounts on at least 50 occasions between January 2018 and February 2020, is in the news again: the Spanish data protection authority has fined Vodafone €8.15 million (approximately £7 million) for aggressive telemarketing tactics and repeated data protection failures. The fine was issued as a result of an investigation that was prompted by hundreds of complaints, with the regulator discovering a system that held up to 4.5 million contact lists purchased from third parties without user consent.

4. Facebook

And another social media giant – Facebook. Ireland’s data protection watchdog is demanding answers from Facebook over the release of records on 533 million people that appeared to stem from the social media site. As reported in April 2021, a spokesman for the Data Protection Commission (DPC) – which regulates Facebook in the European Union – said “a dataset, appearing to be sourced from Facebook, has appeared on a hacking website this weekend for free and contains records of 533 million individuals.”

5. H&M

The Data Protection Authority of Hamburg, Germany, fined clothing retailer H&M €35,258,707.95 — the second-largest GDPR fine ever imposed. H&M’s GDPR violations involved the internal monitoring of employees. After employees took vacation or sick leave, they were required to attend a return-to-work meeting. Some of these meetings were recorded and accessible to over 50 H&M managers. It has violated the GDPR’s principle of data minimisation — don’t process personal information, particularly sensitive data about people’s health and beliefs, unless you need to for a specific purpose.

6. Google

The biggest penalty (€50 million) was issued to Google for its alleged failure to provide notice in an easily accessible form, using clear and plain language, when users configure their Android mobile devices and create Google accounts, and obtain users’ valid consent to process their personal data for ad personalisation purposes. 


How to Maintain GDPR Compliance

What can we learn from these case studies? Maintaining GDPR compliance is a complex process, and requires a lot of diligent work. At CRI Group, we recommend looking at it as a part of your risk management strategies, together with your compliance policies and procedures.

To help you with maintaining compliance with GDPR, our integrity due diligence experts created the following top 10 GDPR best practices for any business or entity that deals with collecting, storing or using personal information:

1. Employ a Data Protection Officer (DPO)

It is a GDPR requirement that entities who carry out regular and systematic monitoring of individuals on a large scale, or large-scale processing of certain special categories of data, have an assigned DPO. It is also recommended, however, for all other entities to help ensure data security. While the GDPR does not specifically list the necessary training or qualifications of a DPO, the regulation does require the DPO to have “expert knowledge of data protection law and practices” (Digital Guardian, 2019). Implement thorough background screening processes and make sure they are trained and qualified to be your DPO.

2. Train Your Employees

Ensure that all personnel are aware of the GDPR and your organisation’s commitment to compliance. Make sure that all leaders, and especially key personnel charged with collecting, handling or storing data, understand their responsibilities under GDPR. Make date protection training a regular part of your employee curriculum.

3. Confirm the Legality of Your Data Collection

GDPR requires that you have a legal basis to collect personal data. For most businesses, the following are the most likely to be applicable:

  • The information is necessary to perform a contract between the organisation and the individual;
  • You have a legal obligation to process the data (such as a court order);
  • The organisation has a legitimate interest in collecting and processing the data – in other words, there needs to be a relationship and business reason to collect the date (it cannot be random);
  • The individual has provided direct consent to the processing of the data.

4. Maintain thorough Records

For larger organisations (more than 250 employees), GDPR requires that records of data collection and processing be maintained. Again, this is also a best practice for smaller organisations, as well. It can help establish that the organisation is dutifully complying with the data protection principles in GDPR. Take inventory and make a record of the data you have collected and are storing to date. Create a detailed matrix to understand what types of data you are holding, where/how it is collected, how and where it is held, and whether it is still needed. Based on this information, you can also develop a data-retention policy to govern how long personal data is kept and stored. Keeping data on file longer than needed is a liability, and serves no business purpose.

5. Establish Consent Policies for Data

For some of your records, consent is your lawful basis for holding it. Under GDPR, it is no longer acceptable to assume consent in your collected data, or treat silence as consent. Create clear and unambiguous consent forms for your data collection that demonstrate adherence to GDPR principles. And remember, under GDPR, you must make it a simple process for an individual to withdraw their consent at any time.

6. Perform Due Diligence on Third-Parties

Under GDPR, your organisation is responsible if third-party partners collect, store or manage data for your organisation. You must ensure their compliance with GDPR as if it is your own since they are responsible for your data. This is the time to update your contracts with them to include compliance measures, as needed. It is also important that you review their control systems and their data handling processes. They must be comprehensive and meet all of the GDPR requirements to keep data secure. CRI Group’s third-party risk management experts can help you conduct effective reviews of your partners and their processes.

7. Be Responsive

Under GDPR, your organisation must respond to requests from individuals whose data you have collected and/or are storing. These requests are spelt out as individuals rights in regards to their personal data and they include the following:

  • Right to be informed about what data is collected and why;
  • Right of access to data that has been collected;
  • Right to rectification/correction of inaccurate data;
  • Right to erasure of data (“right to be forgotten”);
  • Right to restrict processing of personal data;
  • Right to data portability;
  • Right to object to use of data; and
  • Right not to be subject to automated decision making, including profiling.

Have a process in place to timely respond to requests and provide data when requested in order to stay in compliance.

8. Have Written Policies in Place

Develop your internal policies in regards to GDPR and how you protect personal data, and communicate them across your organisation. Take special note to spell out policies on data retention, cross-border processing of data, and how you collect and handle data for persons under the age of 16, as GDPR has special requirements in regards to children’s data.

9. Conduct Risk Assessments

GDPR requires Data Protection Impact Assessments in certain cases. These assessments measure your organisation’s ability to protect personal data and risks associated with that protection. If your data processing is considered high-risk, uses new technology, or deals in large-scale processing of data in certain categories, the assessments are required – but for any organisation, they are recommended. Data protection experts at an outside firm like CRI Group™ can help you prepare robust risk assessments and follow-up plans to address their results.

10. Be Prepared for a Breach

A worst-case scenario in data security is a breach that exposes personal information. Under the steps above, your organisation should be well-positioned to prevent or limit any breach to your data security. However, you should always have a contingency plan in place to immediately respond to a breach should it occur. Understand that GDPR requires that the applicable EU data protection supervisory authority be notified within 72 hours of a breach. Gone are the days where a company can announce it weeks or even months after the fact. Be ready to notify the affected individuals that their data has been compromised, so that they can take the appropriate steps to respond.

Organisations don’t like to think about the impact of a data breach – but major cases have pushed governments to act in the public’s interest. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the EU, where the GDPR is now the governing policy for organisations that deal with individuals’ personal data. By being proactive with the steps above, your organisation can be better prepared and maintain compliance with the GDPR. Most importantly, you will have the confidence and trust of your consumers through effective best practices in handling and protecting their data. CRI Group’s experts are here to help. Contact us today so that we can walk you through the steps of GDPR compliance. If you have any further questions or interest in implementing compliance solutions, please contact us.

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