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Friday, 15 December, 2000, 18:02 GMT
Upgrade forces website closure
Halifax credit cards
A faulty software upgrade has forced the UK's Halifax bank to close down a website for some of its credit card customers.

The website, for registered holders of Bank One credit cards, allows customers to check their account balance and the transaction they made using their card.

But after the website's software was upgraded on Thursday, some customers were able to see names and financial details of other clients.

One customer, who alerted BBC News Online to the problem, managed to see the credit card transactions of four other people, while he tried to retrieve his own account balance.

Website shutdown

A Halifax spokesman told BBC News Online that the website was shut down shortly after the fault was discovered, and that "only a handful of customers" had been affected.

According to the Halifax customer, though, the response was somewhat different. When he rang the bank to alert it to the problem, he was told that the website would not be taken down immediately. He was told that "a team of engineers are working on [the fault], and they will be taking it down within the next hour".

A bank spokesman said the customer was "unfortunately" given the wrong information.

The website was originally set up for customers of Bank One, a US bank that had expanded agressively into the UK credit card market. In June this year, the Halifax bought Bank One's credit card business, and integrated it with its own card network.

'No financial damage done'

The bank insists that no financial damage was done, as the website allowed users to check balances but not make financial transactions.

The Halifax spokesman also said that customers were not able to see the other party's credit card number or home address.

However, it would have been easy to track down other card holders, if they had an unusual enough name - and possibly confront them, if their credit card purchases had been of an equally unusual nature.

And another potential error could have been costly to customers. The website is also used to pay the credit card bill with a debit card. Had cardholders in a hurry failed to notice the different name and unusual transactions, they might have paid somebody else's bills by mistake.

The Halifax says that the fault could affect only those Bank One card customers, who had registered for the web service - several thousand at most, the spokesman said.

Late on Friday afternoon the web site was back in working order again.

The bank now plans to contact all customers who were affected by the fault to apologise for the problems they encountered.

Software trap

Software upgrades are increasingly becoming a serious problem for financial websites.

Past security breaches at internet bank Egg, at Halifax's share dealing service and the online banking operation of Barclays all occurred in the hours after a software upgrade.

In all cases, in-house testing had failed to spot security loopholes, which became apparent within hours on the "live" websites.

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See also:

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30 Nov 99 | Business
Online share dealing - is it safe?
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Halifax, BT in internet banking deal
26 Oct 00 | Business
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Safety fears for web banking
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