Zurich promises encryption after massive customer data loss

Contractors will also be forced to watch data movement closely

Insurance giant Zurich has promised to encrypt and closely monitor the movement of customer data, after losing the details of 641,000 customers on a backup tape over a year and a half ago.

It will also instruct any contractors to follow the same security undertakings. The new announcements are part of an undertaking the company has signed with the Information Commissioner.

The data lost included that of 51,000 UK customers -- in some cases including their names, contact details and bank information -- as well as Zurich's entire south African customer base of 550,000 clients. The tape was lost in South Africa, in transit to a secure storage unit, in August 2008. Zurich said it had only become aware of the loss a year later.

When it realised the loss, in October last year, Zurich apologised to customers, as well as informing the Financial Services Authority. It hired accountants KPMG to investigate.

Annette Court, chief executive of general insurance for Europe and Zurich Financial Services, said the loss was "unacceptable" and that the company takes security "very seriously", adding: "We are putting a great deal of investment into strengthening our internal processes to ensure that incidents of this nature do not happen again in the future."

The company has insisted there was "no evidence" that any details had been compromised.

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