Telecoms customers hacked off with being hacked

It's not been the best few weeks for customer service in the UK telecoms industry.

First TalkTalk -- which provides competition to BT on the UK market and also stepped up its quad-play ambitions a year ago after signing an MVNO deal with Telefónica -- said around 21,000 unique bank account numbers had been accessed by hackers.

This is the third time the company has been hit by a cyber attack in the past eight months, although it is far from alone. In August this year, Carphone Warehouse admitted that hackers accessed 2.4 million customers' personal data, including bank details.

Hot on the heels of the TalkTalk announcement came the news that Vodafone UK had also been subject to hacking, affecting almost 2,000 customers. Although the company assured customers that no complete bank account numbers or credit card details were obtained, it certainly creates a feeling of uncertainty about how safe your data is with companies that have access to your bank accounts.

Of course TalkTalk and Vodafone UK have tried to divert blame from themselves -- and indeed withstanding sustained cyber attacks is a tough call for any company. However, TalkTalk for one has been accused of displaying "a disregard for the safety of its customers' data", security experts told the Guardian, even though the company has defended its cyber security as robust.

Given that security breaches seem to be a matter of "when" rather than "if", it's clear that more needs to be done. Security experts have called for the customer data itself to be encrypted to make it useless for criminals.

It would also help to constantly reinforce the message that companies will never call customers and ask for bank details over the phone. There are still too many examples of vulnerable customers falling prey to criminals in this way.

What is also clear is that such attacks are a PR nightmare for companies like TalkTalk and Vodafone, and much will depend on how they respond. In highly competitive markets like the UK, maintaining customer loyalty is the most important challenge facing operators. Being hacked in the first place is bad enough, but being slow to respond or even refusing to accept responsibility will leave a lasting impression on users, as will a failure to implement measures to ensure that customer data will always remain hidden.--Anne