Enforcement is increasing under the EU US Privacy Shield Framework for cross border transfer of personal data. A report published by European regulator, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), lists enforcement initiatives by the Department of Commerce (DoC) and the FTC.

  • On a quarterly basis the DoC conducts “false claims reviews” to identify organizations that have started but not finished an initial or re-certification or that did not submit their annual recertification.
  • The DoC performs random web searches for false claims of participation in the program
  • The DoC performed a sweep of 100 randomly chosen organizations.
  • The DoC designated a person to follow the media and to do keyword searches to identify possible breaches of the Privacy Shield commitment.
  • The DoC performs regular checks for broken links to the privacy policy on the Privacy Shield list.
  • This year the FTC brought 5 new Privacy Shield cases.
  • The FTC investigates Privacy Shield-related referrals (approximately 100).
  • The FTC started to send Civil Investigation Demands (CIDs) proactively to monitor compliance with the Privacy Shield principles.

Details in the Second Annual Joint Review.

Data privacy and securityFox Rothschild partner and firm Chief Privacy Officer Mark G. McCreary sees a trend: Law firms are increasingly recognizing that naming a lawyer to lead data security and privacy efforts is “an essential ingredient in good risk management.”

In an article for Law360 entitled “Notes From A Law Firm Chief Privacy Officer: CPO vs. CISO,” McCreary writes:

“To understand the role of the CPO — and why that person ought to be a lawyer — it’s important to distinguish the role they fill from that of the chief information security officer or CISO, who is typically a nonlawyer and leads the firm’s information technology department.”

We invite you to read his full article.

 

Yesterday, a massive ransomware attack now known as “Petya” spread across the globe in a similar fashion to the WannaCry cyberattack in May. In an Alert today, Fox Chief Privacy Officer and Partner Mark McCreary breaks down what we know about the attack, how to address it if your organization falls victim to it, and how to minimize the risks of future attacks:

Yesterday’s worldwide cyberattack once again exploited a vulnerability that has been known to experts for many months. These attacks are sure to continue and the best defense is knowledge. Awareness of how malware works and employee training to avoid the human error that may trigger an infection can prevent your organization from becoming a victim.

This latest ransomware variant, referred to as “Petya,” is similar in many respects to the “WannaCry” ransomware that affected hundreds of thousands of computers in mid-May, using the same Eternal Blue exploit to infect computers. The purpose of this Alert is to provide you some information believed or known at this time.

How Is a Computer Infected?

Experts believe the Petya malware is delivered in a Word document attached to an email. Once initiated by opening the Microsoft Word document, an unprotected computer becomes infected and the entire hard drive on that computer is encrypted by the program. This is notably different from WannaCry, which encrypted only files.

Once Petya is initiated, it begins seeking other unprotected computers in the same network to infect. It is not necessary to open the infected Microsoft Word document on each computer. An infection can occur by the malware spreading through a network environment.

To read Mark’s full discussion of the Petya attack, please visit the Fox Rothschild website.

Mark also notes that “I continue to stress to clients that in addition to hardening your IT resources, the absolute best thing your business can do is train employees how to detect and avoid malware and phishing.  In-person, annual privacy and security training is the best way to accomplish this.”

Yesterday we witnessed new ransomware spread across the world with incredible speed and success, bringing businesses to their knees and home users learning for the first time about ransomware and why computer backups are so important.

With over 123,000 computers infected, experts believe the “WannaCrypt/WannaCry/WCry” attacks have stopped after researchers registered a domain that the software checks before encrypting.  However, nothing is stopping someone from revising the software to not require that check and releasing it into the wild.  In other words, do not expect the infections to stop.

To battle the malicious software, Microsoft took the highly unusual step of issuing updates for versions of Windows that have reached their end of life and otherwise are not supported (e.g., Windows XP, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2003).  WannaCrypt/WannaCry/WCry did not even try to target Windows 10 machines, but that does not mean Windows 10 machines cannot be affected and encrypted by the ransomeware.  The blog describing Microsoft’s efforts can be found here and is worth reading.  Although your business may normally take a wait and see approach to software updates to avoid conflicts with other programs, this is a situation you should fast track that process.

If there is any silver lining here, it is that it may lead to more organizations to focus harder on computer security and efforts to battle malicious attacks similar to WannaCrypt/WannaCry/WCry.  Having seen first hand from clients the panic and feeling of helplessness caused by WannaCrypt/WannaCry/WCry in mere hours, it seems likely that companies are starting to better understand the risk, loss of productivity and costs that can be associated with a ransomware attack.

Below is a screenshot of the WannaCrypt/WannaCry/WCry software on an infected machine.  (Note the financial aid offer in the last line of the “Can I Recover My Files?” paragraph.  The bad guys must have a public relations firm!)

wannacrypt

With tax season in full swing, a different season is impacting businesses across all industries: “phishing season.”

Phishing scams
Copyright: fberti / 123RF Stock Photo

“Phishing” or “spear phishing” refers to cyberattack scams that target certain individuals within an organization with the hope of gaining access to valuable information.

These scams take advantage of the busy tax season, the desire to promptly respond to purported upper management and social engineering employees in order to target and trick only employees with immediate access to sensitive employee data. These scams have spread to a variety of for-profit sectors and even nonprofits and school districts.

Spear phishing attacks are virtual traps set up by criminals who, in this case, send emails to employees that appear to come from actual upper management. Typically, they are well-written and look authentic. Usually, there is some explanation or pressing reason offered for why personal information is required. The targets have increasingly become payroll and human resources personnel with the goal of stealing employees’ W-2 information during tax season.

Roughly 100 businesses with more than 125,000 employees were victims of phishing scams last year. This year has already seen a dramatic increase in phishing scams, as approximately 80 businesses have already been targeted during tax season. These are only the businesses that reported phishing scams, and the real number is certainly dramatically larger.

The IRS has previously stated that tax season is likely partly responsible for this surge in phishing emails. Last year, the IRS issued an alert to payroll and human resources professionals about emails purporting to be from company executives requesting employees’ personal information.

“Now the criminals are focusing their schemes on company payroll departments,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “If your CEO appears to be emailing you for a list of company employees, check it out before you respond. Everyone has a responsibility to remain diligent about confirming the identity of people requesting personal information about employees.”

The IRS bulleted some of the requests contained in these fake emails:

  • Kindly send me the individual 2015 W-2 (PDF) and earnings summary of all W-2 of our company staff for a quick review.
  • Can you send me the updated list of employees with full details (name, social security number, date of birth, home address, salary).
  • I want you to send me the list of W-2 copy of employees wage and tax statement for 2015, I need them in PDF file type, you can send it as an attachment. Kindly prepare the lists and email them to me ASAP.

No organization is immune during phishing season. Last year a large social media provider issued an apology and offered two years of identity theft insurance and monitoring after one of its workers inadvertently released sensitive company payroll information to a criminal. The unidentified employee opened an email that appeared to be from the victim company’s CEO. Although none of the company’s internal systems were breached and no user information was compromised, hundreds of employees had their personal information exposed to the public.

The FBI has also warned the public and has published suggestions to avoid becoming a victim during phishing season, including:

  • Keep in mind that most companies, banks, agencies, etc., don’t request personal information via email. If in doubt, give them a call (but don’t use the phone number contained in the email — that’s usually phony as well).
  • Use a phishing filter. Many of the latest web browsers have them built in or offer them as plug-ins.
  • Never follow a link to a secure site from an email. Always enter the URL manually.
  • Don’t be fooled (especially today) by the latest scams.

The Minnesota Department of Revenue recently announced its excellent Stop. Connect. Confirm. program. From the Department of Revenue’s announcement:

When a request for private/sensitive information is made, Stop. Connect. Confirm.

  1. Stop – Stop for a moment before complying with the request and sending that information.
  2. Connect – Connect with the person who sent you the request by phone or by walking over to see them. Do not respond to the email to get confirmation of the sender’s identity. The sender may be a criminal who has disguised his or her identity by spoofing your colleague’s email address.
  3. Confirm – Confirm with the executive requesting the information that the request is legitimate.

Businesses can download and print this poster and display it in their human resources and payroll departments to remind employees to Stop. Connect. Confirm. if a request for employee personal information is made.

If your employer notifies you that your W-2 or other personal information has been compromised:

  • Review the recommended actions by the Federal Trade Commission at www.identitytheft.gov or the IRS at www.irs.gov/identitytheft.
  • File a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit if your tax return is rejected because of a duplicate Social Security number or if instructed to do so by the Internal Revenue Service.

More of these attacks should be expected as tax season, and phishing season, continue, so organizations should be vigilant about ensuring that all employees are aware about phishing scams.

On March 15, Fox Rothschild partner Scott Vernick will participate in a panel discussion on Developments in Data Privacy & Security as part of the 2017 Argyle Chief Legal Officer Leadership Forum. The Forum will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Convene Conference Center at 730 3rd Ave in New York City.

Scott L. Vernick, Partner, Fox Rothschild LLPScott and his fellow panelists will discuss the evolution of the GC role to include cybersecurity and data privacy, how cybersecurity fits into an organization’s risk management structure, as well as proactive risk assessments GCs can use to identify and prioritize critical assets and data for their business. Attendees will also receive information on new regulatory challenges, how GCs can best collaborate with and advise other organization leaders on the topic of cybersecurity, and working with outside counsel on these and related issues. The panel discussion is scheduled from 10:10 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

To register for the event, please visit the Argyle Forum event page.

For the second time in just four months, Yahoo has announced a massive cyberattack. The first attack, which occurred in 2014, set a record with the breach of 500 million user accounts. But the company now believes that twice as many accounts were compromised in a second data breach.

Search engine conceptAn internal investigation at the search engine company revealed a 2013 attack in which cyber criminals stole approximately 1 billion end user names, email addresses, telephone numbers, and dates of birth. Also stolen were hashed passwords as well as security questions and answers, some of which may have not been encrypted.

Yahoo did not explain why only some account recovery questions and answers were encrypted, but said it does not believe any financial data was stolen in the newly discovered earlier breach.

The news complicates Yahoo ongoing negotiations with Verizon for the $4.8 billion acquisition of Yahoo and could jeopardize the deal if Yahoo’s valuation decreases substantially.

The increasing frequency of data breaches underscores the need for privacy officers and legal counsel to be diligent. Plans should be in place to enable a quick response to unauthorized disclosures of data. Experts recommend collecting and storing only the minimum amount of data and limiting access to data only to those who need it to complete their job functions. An internal privacy policy is essential and keeping abreast of and adhering to industry best security practices can protect against and mitigate the consequences of a data breach.

In what may be the largest data breach ever publicly disclosed, Yahoo, disclosed that a 2014 cyberattack breached at least 500 million user accounts. The company said it believes state-sponsored actors were responsible and that the data stolen includes names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, and hashed passwords.

Data privacy and securityThe data could also include security questions and answers, but Yahoo said that some accounts were encrypted. The company said its investigation did not reveal unhashed passwords or credit card or bank account information.

News of the breach comes soon after the $4.8 billion Verizon acquisition of Yahoo. Yahoo shares tumbled after the announcement but analysts said the Verizon deal is not likely to be affected by the news. With the disclosure, Yahoo joins a growing list of U.S. companies to suffer a serious data breach since 2013.

There are five fundamental truths that a company’s privacy officers and legal counsel must be aware of in order to protect consumer data:

Only Required Data Should Be Collected and Stored
Sweeping up and storing data beyond what is needed in order to provide a company’s services opens the door for cyber criminals to access and expose more consumer personal data. A company’s leadership must think very carefully about what personal data it is collecting and why it is collecting it from its consumers – collecting and storing unnecessary personal data exposes consumers and the company to additional risk that is avoidable.

Adhere to the Principle of Least Privilege
The Principle of Least Privilege is a restrictive computing practice that only allows a user to access the data necessary for its legitimate purpose. By only giving the least amount of access privileges to employees, a company can minimize the number of employees who will have access to consumer personal data, thus making the pool of employees who do have heightened access smaller and easier to manage.

Follow an Internal Privacy Policy
Having a privacy policy that establishes internal controls for who collects consumer personal data, how it is collected, where it is stored, and for how long it is stored is critical for protecting consumer personal data. The privacy policy should obligate every employee with access to consumer personal data to protect that data as well as obligating the company to provide annual training and updates to employees.

Plan for the Inevitable Breach
When, not if, a company is breached, it must stick to its breach plan to stay ahead of law enforcement, regulators, the media, and further disclosure of consumer personal data. The breach plan should be written alongside the company’s internal privacy policy – the documents go hand in hand and work together to help control a breach. Employees must know what their roles are during a breach, when they must act, and who they need to contact when they discover a breach. Not having a breach plan can lead to a reactive response, which makes investigating and containing the effects of the breach more difficult.

Industry Best Practices
Above all else, following industry best security practices is the best way to protect consumer personal data. Having a chief information security officer, legal staff and/or information technology director staying on top of trends, events and changes is the only way a company can minimize the potential of a data breach, but also to decrease the amount of data that is breached. Implementing and maintaining an updated and secure corporate network may be costly and scare executive management into inaction, but the cost of cleaning up a breach is far greater than finding money in the budget to hire security-minded staff and to harden the company’s systems.

It seems likely that the next decade will be difficult for IT professionals as breaches become increasingly common. Instead of fighting the trend, IT pros should embrace their fate and prepare for the inevitable breach.

 

The “new age” of internet and dispersed private data is not so new anymore but that doesn’t mean the law has caught up.  A few years ago, plaintiffs’ cases naming defendants like Google, Apple, and Facebook were at an all-time high but now, plaintiffs firms aren’t interested anymore.  According to a report in The Recorder, a San Francisco based legal newspaper, privacy lawsuits against these three digital behemoths have dropped from upwards of thirty cases in the Northern District of California i 2012 to less than five in 2015.   Although some have succeeded monumentally—with Facebook writing a $20 million check to settle a case over the fact that it was using users’ images without their permission on its “sponsored stories” section—this type of payout is not the majority.  One of the issues is that much of the law in this arena hasn’t developed yet.  Since there is no federal privacy law directly pertaining to the digital realm, many complaints depend on old laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and Stored Communications Act (1986) as well as the Video Privacy Protection Act (1988).  The internet and its capacities was likely not the target of these laws—instead they were meant to prohibit such behavior as tapping a neighbor’s phone or collecting someone’s videotape rental history.

Further, it seems unavoidable now to have personal data somewhere somehow.  Privacy lawsuits attempting to become class actions have a difficulty in succeeding in a similar way that data breach class actions do: the plaintiffs face the challenge of proving concrete harms.  In a case later this year, Spokeo v. Robins, the Supreme Court may change this area of law because it will decide whether an unemployed plaintiff can sue Spokeo for violating the Fair Credits Reporting Act because Spokeo stated that he was wealthy and held a graduate degree.  The issue will turn on proving actual harm.  Companies that deal with private information on a consistent basis should protect themselves by developing privacy policies that, at the very least, may limit their liability.   The reality is that data is everywhere and businesses will constantly be finding creative and profitable ways to use it.

To keep up with the Spokeo v. Robins case, check out the SCOTUSblog here.

http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/spokeo-inc-v-robins/

Copyright: argus456 / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: argus456 / 123RF Stock Photo

Fox Rothschild partner Scott L. Vernick was quoted in The New York Times article, “Hacking Victims Deserve Empathy, Not Ridicule.” Full text can be found in the September 2, 2015, issue, but a synopsis is below.

While some data breach victims may face only minor frustrations – changing a password or getting a new credit card – it is a different story for the more than 30 million Ashley Madison users who had their accounts for the infidelity website compromised.

Many of the victims of this latest massive data breach have been plunged into despair, fearing they could lose jobs and families, and expecting to be humiliated among friends and colleagues.

“It’s easy to be snarky about Ashley Madison, but just because it’s unpopular or even immoral, it doesn’t mean this sort of activity shouldn’t be protected,” said Scott L. Vernick, a noted privacy attorney. “This gets at fundamental issues like freedom of speech and freedom of association – today it’s Ashley Madison, tomorrow it could be some other group that deserves protection.”