Customers of Winnipeg's Thermea spa alarmed after notification of significant data breach
Credit card info, full names, addresses may have been compromised, customers told
The parent company of a popular luxury spa in Winnipeg is in hot water after a data breach potentially opened the door for hackers to access a variety of private information from customers.
This week, customers who purchased gift certificates from Thermea spa between early November and late February were told in an email that their credit card information may have been compromised, alongside their full names, phone numbers and email and street addresses.
Groupe Nordik, the parent company of the spa, said that they learned of the breach in late February, shut down the gift certificate system and hired a third-party firm to investigate.
"We have since enhanced security measures on all Groupe Nordik systems, including the gift certificate system, and will continue to work with the cyber security firm to maximize the protection of our clients' data," the email said.
Gift certificates that have not been redeemed are still valid, Groupe Nordik said. The appropriate authorities have been notified of the breach and affected customers were encouraged to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity.
Unencrypted credit card info
"What the email didn't include, though, was any guidance around the risk of identity theft that they have now incurred for me," John Robins told Radio-Canada in a Wednesday interview.
Robins purchased a Thermea gift certificate with his credit card at a Polo Park kiosk around Christmastime, he said.
He has submitted a complaint about the breach to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. He's not aware of any fraudulent charges on his credit card, but he's going through his records again.
"I certainly did not think that I was putting myself in that level of risk when I made a simple point-of-sale transaction with Therma."
In an email to CBC News, Groupe Nordik said there was a "brief window of opportunity" when a third-party could have obtained credit card information from customers during transactions on the gift certificate system.
Gautam Srivastava, a Brandon University professor of computer science who specializes in cybersecurity, said these kinds of data breaches are happening more often, since businesses are prioritizing ease of use.
While paying by the tap of a credit card or phone is speedy and efficient, those practices are not always compatible with good security, Srivastava said.
"If you're looking to encrypt and then decrypt information, there's time lags there, and so a lot of systems that are built for ease of use find those sorts of things compromised."
Matter of trust
He said Thermea isn't entirely to blame for the data breach, as malicious attackers often test a number of companies within a specific vicinity in search of system weaknesses.
Thermea is a well-loved establishment in Winnipeg, he said, so they won't necessarily lose all of their business because of the data breach.
There are steps Groupe Nordik can take to win back customers, such as keeping their security measures updated and ensuring customers that their information is safe, he said.
Consumers can protect themselves by changing the pins of their bank and credit cards periodically and using strong passwords for their emails, as well as multi-factor authentication or biometric verifications such as fingerprint technology.
But at the end of the day, it's a matter of trust, Srivastava said.
"Their brand is going to take a hit for a little bit, but they can take steps in the future starting now to kind of win back some of that trust," he said.
"When trust is broken in anything, it takes time to win back that trust, and sometimes you never do."
In a statement to Radio-Canada, Groupe Nordik said they hired a third-party cybersecurity firm to investigate the breach and will continue to work with them in the future.
"We have since enhanced security measures on all Groupe Nordik systems, including the gift certificate system, and will continue to work with the cyber security firm to maximize the protection of our clients' data," the statement said.
Robins said the breach came at an unfortunate time for him and his family, as they lost their house to a fire in January 2022.
He said Thermea is a bit of a local institution for Winnipeg and surrounding areas. "I've been there many times — really enjoy their service. It's a real treat to be able to go to a spa."
But Robins said Thermea will have to win his business back.
"I think giving an email notification that a breach happened is a good first step and I'm grateful for that," he said.
"But frankly given the — in my estimation — very weak data practices that this company has been engaged in, I really don't want to go back to Thermea and jeopardize my data again with that firm."
- An earlier version of this story suggested Groupe Nordik had stored credit card information from their customers. The company says that's not the case.Apr 06, 2023 8:37 PM CT
With files from Radio-Canada's Anne-Charlotte Carignan