It’s a new year, and time for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)’s annual Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter (the “2017 Letter”)    We remind regulated entities of this list of examination priorities every year, because cybersecurity appears high on the list every year.  2017 is no exception.

The 2017 Letter

FINRA has been increasing its on-site examinations and enhanced risk-based surveillance “to apply a nationally consistent approach to identify and focus on material conduct at firms…”   Among the operational risks listed in the 2017 Letter, Cybersecurity is listed first, and according to FINRA, “remain[s] one of the most significant risks many firms face, and in 2017, FINRA will continue to assess firms’ programs to mitigate those risks.”

Firms should be prepared for FINRA reviews of methods for preventing data loss, including understanding of data (e.g., its degree of sensitivity and the locations where it is stored), and its flow through the firm, and possibly to vendors.  FINRA may assess controls firms use to monitor and protect this data, for example, through data loss prevention tools. In some instances, FINRA has been known to review how firms manage their vendor relationships, including the controls to manage those relationships, and this line of examination is expected to continue.  Importantly, the 2017 Letter recognizes the nature of the “insider threat” and expresses FINRA’s intent to inquire into what controls firms have in place to acknowledge and manage that “insider threat”.    According to the 2007 Letter:  “The nature of the insider threat itself is rapidly changing as the workforce evolves to include more employees who are mobile, trusted external partnerships and vendors, internal and external contractors, as well as offshore resources.”

The WORM Actions

As if to emphasize the seriousness of the inquiries, FINRA issued a series of Letters of Consent at the end of December, levying fines totaling $14 million against 12 firms, and discussed the record-keeping requirements at the core of the December regulatory actions in its 2017 Letter.

Specifically, Securities & Exchange Commission and FINRA rules require member firms to maintain certain electronic records in a non-erasable, non-rewritable format, known by the acronym WORM, for  “Write Once, Read Many”.  This format prevents the alteration or destruction of records stored electronically.

in its press release, FINRA explained that WORM format requirements were essential to FINRA’s investigative duties. FINRA noted how the volume of sensitive financial data stored electronically by members had risen exponentially in the past decade. This increase in the amount of sensitive information stored by FINRA members coincides with increasingly aggressive attempts to hack into electronic data repositories. “These disciplinary actions are a result of FINRA’s focus on ensuring that firms maintain accurate, complete and adequately protected electronic records. Ensuring the integrity of these records is critical to the investor protection function because they are a primary means by which regulators examine for misconduct in the securities industry.

FINRA found that the each of the 12 fined firms failed to follow required document retention regulations in various ways outlined in the Letters of Consent.

Brad Bennett, FINRA’s current chief of enforcement, will be stepping down shortly.  #MLWashingtonCyberWatch will be keeping an eye on what, if any, changes may come with the new administration in 2017. Only time will tell whether FINRA will continue its aggressive enforcement actions or if we will see a softening of FINRA’s actions.   Regardless of the regulatory inquiries, firms should continue to take actions to improve cybersecurity resilience and investor protection.   For a quick review of the FINRA Report on Cybersecurity Practices, check out our webinar recording.

The New York State Department of Financial Services has announced — much to the relief of the multitude of financial services companies and insurers regulated by DFS — that it will revamp its recently proposed cybersecurity rule.  After receiving more than 150 letters and taking into account recent public comments, the NYDFS has decided to revise its initial proposed rule to address public comments and concerns and to scale back some of the proposed standards.

As we previously wrote, the NYDFS had announced its original proposed rule in September.  The initial proposed rule, which was due to go into effect on January 1, 2017, has immediately received criticism from financial institutions.  The industry was concerned that the rule failed to distinguish between large and small financial institutions, and that it may further conflict with future federal regulations on cybersecurity.  In response to recent public comments, the department has agreed to ease certain requirements for encrypting data and breach notification, to name a few.   In particular, encryption requirements have been stepped back to provide that in the event encryption is found to be “infeasible” for some sensitive data, entities can provide an alternate method of security for the data, approved by the company’s Chief Information Security Officer.

Other notable revisions include:  A limited small business exemption, risk-based assessments, clarification with respect to the role and function of the Chief Information Security Officer, less strict audit trails requirement, and what triggers the 72-hour reporting period to notify the department of a cybersecurity event.  The full text of the proposed rule can be found here.

The rule will again be subject to a 30-day comment period.  The department will focus its final review on new comments not raised previously.

Once implemented, this will be the first rule of its kind in the United States.  All financial institutions under the jurisdiction of NYDFS—including banks, lenders, insurers, mortgage companies, and money services businesses—should carefully evaluate the requirements and consider submitting public comments.  Once the rule goes into effect on March 1, 2017, financial institutions will need to ensure compliance within 6 months to 2 years (depending on the applicable tier).

 

Google’s recent changes to its privacy policy are coming under fire from a complaint filed late last year with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) that accuses the company of downplaying “transformational change” in its handling of user data.  #MLWashingtonCyberWatch will be keeping track of how the 2017 FTC addresses this complaint.

On June 28, 2016, Google notified its users of changes to its privacy policy that would “give you more control over the data Google collects and how it’s used, while allowing Google to show you more relevant ads.” However, a complaint submitted by advocacy groups Consumer Watchdog and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse on December 5th (the “Complaint”) alleges that not only are the changes themselves in violation of previous agreements between Google and the FTC as well as Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, but also that the announcement of these changes intentionally misled users who, in the words of the Complaint, “had no way to discern from the wording that Google was breaking from a nearly decade-old practice.” Continue Reading #MLWashingtonCyberWatch: 2017 FTC and Google Complaint

It’s likely that 2017 will see still more data breaches and hacking stories, and companies should be looking closely at cybersecurity as a risk management issue, and not as an IT issue (we’ve been saying that for years ….).

One of the issues for 2017 will continue to be global changes in data protection laws, and how US companies operating in a global environment prepare for compliance with competing regulations.

To that end, we continue our ongoing series of webinars on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The upcoming webinar, the fifth in our GDPR Series, will explore the ways in which the Regulation creates new avenues for data transfers, and narrows others. In particular, we will consider sector-specific Commission decisions, privacy seals/certifications, the exception for non-repetitive, limited transfers, and the outlook for BCRs and Model Clauses.

Registration is online here.

 

An old saw defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  Wendy’s shareholders recently flouted that maxim by filing a derivative action this week against officers and directors of the fast-food chain seeking recovery on behalf of the corporation for damages arising from a data breach that affected over 1,000 franchise locations between October 2015 and June 2016.  Based on the results in prior data breach derivative actions, the prospects for the Wendy’s derivative claim appear dim.

Continue Reading The Definition of Insanity? Wendy’s Shareholders File Derivative Action Based on 2015-16 Data Breach

 

The Obama White House has grappled with cybersecurity more than any administration in history: China’s 2009 hack of Google, the 2015 Office of Personnel Management breach, and the recent investigation of Russian cyberattacks during the 2016 election, to name just a few examples. In the midst of the president-elect’s transition efforts, President Obama’s administration has published what it considers to be a blueprint for enhancing the cybersecurity capabilities of government institutions and our digital consumer society today and for years beyond Inauguration Day.   Continue Reading #MLWashingtonCyberWatch: White House Releases Cybersecurity Report Aimed at New Administration

For the past few months, 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, we’ll present a webinar examining the criteria that determines whether or not your organization needs to appoint a Data Protection Officer. We will discuss the role of the DPO, the significance of the “independence” requirement, and the qualifications required to hold the position. Make sure to join us for this important webinar!

Registration link is here.

 

As published in our sister blog, Health Law & Policy Matters

OCR Provides Additional Clarification on Phishing Scam

As we reported earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights described a phishing campaign that is attempting to convince recipients of their inclusion in OCR’s Phase 2 audit program. The email, which was disguised as an official communication, suggests that recipients click on a link. This link takes recipients to a non-governmental website marketing cybersecurity services.

On Wednesday, OCR followed up their alert with additional details about the phishing campaign. According to OCR, the phishing email originates from the email address OSOCRAudit@hhs-gov.us and directs individuals to a URL at http://www.hhs-gov.us. OCR points out the subtle difference from the official email address for its HIPAA audit program, OSOCRAudit@hhs.gov, noting that such subtlety is typical in phishing scams.

OCR also took the opportunity to confirm that it has notified select business associates of their inclusion in the Phase 2 HIPAA audits.  For more information about the Phase 2 audit program please visit our earlier post.

Dismissal Of Home Depot Derivative Action Extends Shareholder Losing Streak

An attempt to impose liability on corporate officers and directors for data breach-related losses has once again failed.  On November 30, 2016, a federal judge in Atlanta issued a 30 page decision dismissing a shareholder derivative action arising out of the September 2014 theft of customer credit card data from point-of-sale terminals in Home Depot stores.  The dismissal of the Home Depot derivative action follows earlier dismissals of derivative actions arising from data breaches perpetrated against Wyndham and Target. Continue Reading A Failed Strategy: Another Derivative Action In A Data Breach Case Goes Down To Defeat

 

The growing scale of cybersecurity concerns is prompting action from government leadership on the federal level. Before the Thanksgiving recess, the House’s Committee on Energy and Commerce got in on the act when two of its subcommittees–the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), and the Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX)–held a joint hearing to investigate and consider the role of Internet-enabled devices (collectively referred to as the “Internet of Things,” or “IoT”) in high-profile online attacks.  Continue Reading House Energy & Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on Security of the Internet of Things