Last week, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) disclosed a $5.5 million settlement with Memorial Healthcare Systems (MHS) for HIPAA violations affecting the protected health information (PHI) of 115,143 individuals. The Resolution Agreement, which can be found here, also contains a detailed corrective action plan (CAP).

The Florida-based health system reported to OCR that the PHI had been impermissibly accessed by MHS employees and impermissibly disclosed to affiliated physician office staff. The PHI consisted of names, dates of birth, and social security numbers.

According to OCR, the login credentials of a former employee of an affiliated physician’s office had been used to access the ePHI maintained by MHS on a daily basis without detection from April 2011 to April 2012, affecting 80,000 individuals. Although it had workforce access policies and procedures in place, MHS failed to implement procedures with respect to reviewing, modifying and/or terminating users’ right of access, as required by HIPAA. The health system also failed to regularly review records of information system activity for its applications that maintain electronic PHI and which are accessed by workforce users and users at affiliated physician practices. To make matters worse, the health system failed to review the audit information despite having identified this risk on several risk analyses conducted by MHS from 2007 to 2012.

“Access to ePHI must be provided only to authorized users, including affiliated physician office staff” said Robinsue Frohboese, Acting Director, HHS Office for Civil Rights. “Further, organizations must implement audit controls and review audit logs regularly. As this case shows, a lack of access controls and regular review of audit logs helps hackers or malevolent insiders to cover their electronic tracks, making it difficult for covered entities and business associates to not only recover from breaches, but to prevent them before they happen.”

While hacking incidents typically garner more media coverage, this case highlights the increasing threat posed by those inside a HIPAA-regulated organization. According to a Protenus report, nearly 60% of the breaches that occurred this past January involved insiders. Organizations would be well-served by reviewing recent OCR guidance on the importance of audit controls.

Originally posted in Mintz Levin’s Health Law Policy Matters

As our readers know we maintain a summary of U.S. state data breach notification laws, which we refer to as the “Mintz Matrix.”   Our latest update is available here, and it should be part of your incident response “toolbox” and part of your planning.

 During 2016, amendments to breach notification laws in five states went into effect (California, Nebraska, Oregon, Rhode Island and Tennessee).  And by the end of last year, well over twenty states had introduced or were considering new regulations or amendments to their existing security breach laws.  We expect there to continue to be significant regulatory activity in the data security space during 2017.  As always, we will keep you abreast of changes and will release updated versions of our Mintz Matrix to keep pace with developments in the states.

We are keeping an eye out for signs of support for a national breach notification law.  So far, there does not appear to be much political motivation for undertaking this effort.  A key sticking point is anxiety among a number of states that a federal law would offer less protection than their existing state law.  This is a valid concern since a national standard will only alleviate the significant burden of complying with the present patchwork of state laws if it has broad pre-emptive effect.  Only time will tell if state and federal lawmakers can work together to develop a comprehensive nationwide regime for security breach notification and remediation.

In the meantime, we must keep tabs on the forty-seven states (along with the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) with their own security breach laws.  Here is what’s been happening since our previous update in the Fall:

 California

 California amended its security breach law in order to require disclosure to affected residents (and to the Attorney General if more than 500 Californians are affected) when encrypted personal data is acquired by an unauthorized person together with an encryption key or security credential that could render the personal data readable or useable.

We note also that former Congressman Xavier Becerra recently took over as Attorney General in California, replacing Kamala Harris who aggressively pursued regulation in the privacy arena during her tenure as AG and who now serves California as one of its U.S. Senators.  Given this change in leadership, it will be interesting to see if the state continues to be a leader in pushing for stringent data security and privacy measures at the state and federal level.

 Illinois

Last summer Illinois passed an amendment to its Personal Information Protection Act (“PIPA”) that significantly broadened protections for personal information and the obligations imposed on businesses that handle such data.  The amendment became effective on January 1, 2017 and made several key changes to PIPA:

  • Definition of Personal Information. PIPA’s definition of “personal information” has now been expanded to include medical information, health insurance information, and unique biometric data used for authentication purposes (examples cited in the statute are a fingerprint, retina or iris image, or unique physical representations or digital representations of biometric data). The amended definition also encompasses a user name or email address in combination with a password or security question and answer that would permit access to an online account when either the user name or email address, or password or security question and answer, are not encrypted or redacted.
  • Encryption Safe Harbor. While PIPA already provided a safe harbor for data collectors if data disclosed due to a security breach was fully encrypted or redacted, the amendment clarified that the safe harbor does not apply if the keys to unencrypt or unredact or otherwise read compromised encrypted or redacted data have also been acquired in connection with the security breach.
  • Nature of Notification. For security breaches involving a user name or email address in combination with a password or security question and answer, data collectors may now provide notice in electronic or other form to affected Illinois residents. Such notice must direct individuals to promptly change their user name or password and security question and answer, or to take other appropriate steps to protect all online accounts for which the affected resident uses the same user name or email address/password or security question and answer. The amended statute also provides an additional option for substitute notice when residents affected by a security breach are confined to one geographic area.
  • New Exemptions. The amendment added an exemption for data collectors who meet their obligations under applicable provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (“HITECH”). Any data collector that provides notice of a security breach to the Secretary of Health and Human Services pursuant to its obligations under HITECH must also provide this notification to the Illinois Attorney General within five business days of notifying the Secretary. This exemption will primarily apply to certain entities operating in the healthcare space. The amended statute also deems financial institutions subject to applicable provisions of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in compliance with PIPA’s data security requirements.
  • Security Requirements. Beyond addressing breach notification, the amendment requires covered entities to implement and maintain reasonable security measures to protect records containing personal information of Illinois residents and to impose similar requirements on recipient parties when disclosing such personal information pursuant to a contract. The amended statute also requires state agencies to report security breaches affecting more than 250 Illinois residents to the Illinois Attorney General.

 Massachusetts

 For those information junkies out there!  The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (the “OCABR”) in Massachusetts has created a public web-based archive of data breaches reported to the OCABR and the Massachusetts Attorney General since 2007.  The data breach notification archive is available at www.mass.gov/ocabr and includes information about which entity was breached, how many Massachusetts residents were affected, if the breach was electronic or involved paper, and the nature of remediation services offered to affected residents.

 It is always a good time to review your incident response plan and data privacy policies to bring everything in line with changes happening on the state level. 

 And now for the disclaimer: The Mintz Matrix is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinions regarding any specific facts relating to specific data breach incidents. You should seek the advice of the Mintz Levin privacy team or other experienced legal counsel when reviewing options and obligations in responding to a particular data security breach.

Make sure to get your February 2017 Mintz Matrix!  Available here for downloading and always linked through the blog’s right-hand navigation bar.

Since September, the Mintz Levin Privacy Webinar Series has focused on the upcoming EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to help businesses understand the reach and scope of the GDPR and prepare for the potentially game-changing privacy regulation. The GDPR will affect how US businesses handle and process personal data originating in the EU and may require changes to business process.

This week’s webinar will consider companies’ obligations to give individuals access to their data and to correct or erase it.  We will also explore the new data portability requirements.  The webinar will conclude with some suggestions on how to make these requirements less burdensome. We hope you can join us!

Registration link is here.

 

What does your TV-watching history say about you? According to a recent lawsuit against VIZIO, Inc., it might be more than you think! One of the world’s largest sellers of “smart” televisions has recently paid a $2.2 million settlement following charges by the Federal Trade Commission and the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General that it was unlawfully tracking and selling 11 million consumers’ viewing data. The resulting court order has important repercussions for both consumers and smart TV producers.  Continue Reading Who is Watching you Watch TV? If You Have VIZIO … Your TV Might Be Watching You

 

When hackers steal consumer data, injury to consumers is not a foregone conclusion.  This is particularly so where credit and debit card numbers are stolen.  Banks, not consumers, bear the cost of fraudulent charges.  Consumers’ credit ratings are unaffected by such charges, and stolen payment card numbers cannot be used to steal consumers’ identities.   As a result, it can be difficult for consumers in payment card data breach cases to prove damages or injury. Continue Reading Ruling Vacating Target Consumer Class Settlement Highlights The Problem Of Standing In Data Breach Cases

 

It’s that taxing time of the year.   Employees have received W-2 forms and the tax filing season has begun in earnest.  And, as night follows day, last year’s W-2 spear-phishing scam has returned.  The IRS and state tax authorities have issued a new alert  to HR and payroll departments to beware of phony emails intended to capture personal information of employees.   The emails generally appear to be from a senior executive (typically the CEO or CFO) to a company payroll office or HR employee and request a PDF or list of employee W-2 forms for the tax year.   Those forms contain all the information any cybercriminal needs to file a fraudulent tax return for a tax refund.   That scam cost the US taxpayer about $21 billon in 2016.  Over 70 companies fell victim to the 2016 scam and hundreds of thousands of employee records, including Social Security numbers, were compromised.

To refresh your memory, here are some of the details that may be contained in the emails:

  • Kindly send me the individual 2016 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 2016, I need them in PDF file type, you can send it as an attachment. Kindly prepare the lists and email them to me asap.

We’ve already seen some activity on this front being reported from around the country.  These incidents not only create angst for employees, but they constitute data breaches reportable under state law because personal information has been exposed to an unauthorized (and unknown) individual and the risk of identity theft is high.   Last year’s incidents also resulted in class action lawsuits by employees against some of the victimized companies.

Employees Are Front Line of Defense

These emails look absolutely legitimate.  That is what makes them so effective.  The header of the email may look exactly as one would expect, mirroring the company fonts, duplicating automated signature blocks, and containing the actual email address of the spoofed executive in the “From:” line. Often, the return email address won’t even be visible until after the reply is sent unless the user specifically expands the address field. If you look carefully, it is likely that the domain name is a few characters “off” from the company’s legitimate domain name, such as substituting the number one (1) for the letter “l” or replacing a “.org” with a “.com”.   The more sophisticated attacks may utilize information obtained from LinkedIn® or social media designed to lull the target into a false sense of trust.

Awareness of these attacks and the problem is the key for employees.   

Train employees — particularly HR and payroll employees — who handle sensitive information to be wary of direct requests for personal information from company executives.   Send out samples of such emails and establish a campaign to raise employee consciousness.  A bit of skepticism goes a long way in protecting against this type of attack.  Confirmation of this type of request should be standard operating procedure, no matter who appears to have sent it.   Your company’s IT department should also be monitoring for phishing trends and remaining on the alert for suspicious outgoing activity, including large files or attachments.

Ask.  Since we have already seen reports of these attacks very early in this tax year, it is time to check in and insure that your company has not already fallen victim.   It’s important to respond quickly to reduce total damage to the organization, and most importantly, to your employees.  Affected individuals can protect themselves with certain forms filed with the IRS – but it’s only effective if they know soon enough.

 

The Mintz Levin Privacy team is here to help with employee training or preparing a plan to respond to an incident.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating whether Yahoo! should have reported the two massive data breaches it experienced earlier to investors, according to individuals with knowledge.  The SEC will probably question Yahoo as to why it took two years, until September of 2016, to disclose a 2014 data breach that Yahoo has said affected at least 500 million users.  The September 2016 disclosure came to light while Verizon Communications was in the process of acquiring Yahoo.  As of now, Yahoo has not confirmed publically the reason for the two year gap.  In December of 2016, Yahoo also disclosed that it had recently discovered a breach of around 1 billion Yahoo user accounts.  As Yahoo appears to have disclosed that breach near in time to discovery, commentators believe that it is less likely that the SEC will be less concerned with it.

After a company discovers that it has experienced an adverse cyber incidents, it faces a potentially Faustian choice: attempt to remediate the issue quietly and avoid reputational harm, or disclose it publically in a way that complies with SEC guidance, knowing that public knowledge could reduce public confidence in the company’s business and could even prove to be the impetus for additional litigation.

Part of the issue may be that while the SEC has various different mechanisms to compel publically traded companies to disclose relevant adverse cyber events, including its 2011 guidance, exactly what and when companies are required to disclose has been seen as vague.  Commentators have argued that companies may have a legitimate interest in delaying disclosure of significant adverse cyber incidents to give law enforcement and cyber security personnel a chance to investigate, and that disclosing too soon would hamper those efforts, putting affected individuals at more risk.

Even so, many see the two year gap period between Yahoo’s 2014 breach and its September 2016 disclosure as a potential vehicle for the SEC to clarify its guidance, due to the unusually long time period and large number of compromised accounts. As a result of its investigation, it is possible that the SEC could release further direction for companies as to what constitutes justifiable reasons for delaying disclosure, as well as acceptable periods of delay.  As cybersecurity is one of the SEC’s 2017 Examination Priorities, at a minimum, companies should expect the SEC to increase enforcement of its existing cybersecurity guidance and corresponding mechanisms.  Whatever the SEC decides during its investigation of Yahoo, implementing a comprehensive Cybersecurity Risk Management program will help keep companies out of this quagmire to begin with.

If you have any questions regarding compliance with SEC cyber incident guidance, please do not hesitate to contact the team at Mintz Levin.

With Inauguration Day upon us, it’s time for a #MLWashingtonCyberWatch update.   President-elect Donald Trump has vocalized his support for the future of “cyber” throughout his campaign – but how will members of his cabinet act, or refuse to act, on his vision for that future?

During the past two weeks, the United States Senate has been holding confirmation hearings for Mr. Trump’s cabinet selections. Pointed questioning from senators has surfaced many issues of critical importance to the American people, among them the future of privacy and cybersecurity. The incoming administration will confront significant issues in these areas such as the use of back-door encryption, mass data collection and surveillance, and international cybersecurity threats. The nominees for Attorney General, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) were each questioned about how they will navigate these concerns as part of the Trump Administration. In this installment of #MLWashingtonCyberWatch we are discussing highlights from these hearings. Continue Reading #MLWashingtonCyberWatch: Nominees Discuss Future of Cybersecurity

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has filed a lawsuit against device manufacturer D-Link for allegedly deceiving the marketplace about the security of its products and, in turn, unfairly placing customer privacy at risk.

Overview

Taiwan-based manufacturers D-Link Corporation and D-Link Systems, Inc. (collectively, “D-Link”) design a variety of home network devices, such as routers, IP cameras, and baby monitors. Devices such as these are susceptible to hacking when they are connected to each other and to the internet (in what is often referred to as the “Internet of Things” or “IoT”), and weak security measures therefore pose a significant security concern. Judging from D-Link’s advertisements for its products, the company is certainly aware of these risks. D-Link boasted that its routers are safe locked from hackers thanks to “Advanced Network Security,” its baby monitors and cameras assure a “Secure Connection” to protect the livestream view of a sleeping child, and promises of an “easy” and “safe” network appear repeatedly during the set up process for a D-Link device with an online interface. As the FTC explains in its lawsuit, claims like those made by D-Link are not only misleading but also dangerous.

Despite an apparent awareness of consumers’ cybersecurity concerns, the FTC alleges that D-Link neglected to build common security measures into the devices it sells. The allegations are startling: mobile app credentials were stored unsecured in plain text on consumer devices; a private company key code was accidentally made viewable online for six months; hard-coded login credentials in camera software left video feeds vulnerable to unauthorized viewers. And that’s just the beginning. More details are listed in the FTC’s complaint filed in a U.S. District Court in California on January 5, 2017. These lapses, and D-Link’s deceptive advertising, prompted the FTC to charge the company with a violation of Section 5(a) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. §45.

As of January 10th, D-Link has denied the allegations outlined in the complaint and has retained the Cause of Action Institute as counsel to defend against the action.

The growing IoT problem

In recent years, the FTC has tried to keep pace with mounting concerns over the IoT industry by filing a handful of complaints focused on consumer protection. For example, it went after the company TRENDnet after the firm’s faulty software allowed hundreds of personal security cameras to be hacked. It also filed an action against computer parts manufacturer ASUS after its cloud services were compromised and the personal information of thousands of consumers was posted online. These isolated mistakes add up; when millions of unsecured and seemingly innocuous Wi-Fi-enabled devices join the global network, they can serve as a massive launchpad for crippling cyber-attacks like the one that overwhelmed internet traffic operator Dyn and shut down several major websites in October 2016. The efforts of the FTC are aimed at mitigating such attacks and encouraging technology developers to invest effort and resources in order to secure their IoT devices before they hit the marketplace.

Search for solutions

Both the FTC and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have released reports offering guidelines and technical standards for building reliable security into the framework of new systems and devices. As we wrote about recently, the Obama administration had also left the Trump administration an extensive report on cybersecurity recommendations. Achieving these standards will require a combination of regular agency enforcement and greater market demand for safe, secure devices. In the meantime, some digital vigilantes are working to stop cyber-attacks before they start. Netgear, for instance, has launched a “bug bounty program” offering cash rewards of $150-$15,000 for eager hackers to track and report security gaps in its devices, applications, and APIS. Indeed, incentivizing solutions rather than quietly overlooking mistakes, and searching for loopholes in our laws, will make a substantial difference in safeguarding the IoT landscape.