The FBI warned this summer that the “Business Email Compromise” (“BEC”) scam continues to grow, evolve, and target businesses of all sizes. As reported by the FBI in June, the scam had hit more than 22,000 victims for a combined dollar loss of greater than $3 billion – that’s billion with a B! And the latest evolution is even more threatening, potentially causing breaches of protected data.

What is the BEC scam? Why have so many been taken in? And how can you protect yourself?

The BEC scam is a smart, targeted scheme using emails that appear genuine, usually seeming to originate from within the victim’s company or from its suppliers/contractors.  For example, the company’s CFO may receive an email that seems to come from the CEO, urgently directing funds to be wired to a specified account for a seemingly legitimate purpose. Or the email may appear to come from a supplier or contractor and seek payment on an invoice that appears legitimate. If the company wires funds as directed, the funds are transferred offshore and become unrecoverable.

The scam has been highly effective because BEC emails mimic legitimate requests. The perpetrators research their victim to learn its protocols, its counterparties’ names, its payment methods, etc. They often use social engineering techniques (e.g., phishing emails requesting info) to learn details about the targeted business. The successful perpetrators learn which individuals are necessary to perform wire transfers and what protocols are used. They may learn when the CEO is traveling, so that an email from the CEO directing payment would not be questioned. The perpetrator may have hacked and used a valid email account for this purpose, or may have established an account with a similar domain name. Their level of sophistication has enabled the theft of billions of dollars.

Earlier this year, the FBI started receiving reports that this highly successfully scheme has evolved into a means to obtain confidential information, leading to data breaches. For example, an email request to the human resources department may prompt the disclosure of W-2 forms or other confidential, personally identifiable information (“PII”). The FBI reports that victims have fallen for this new data-theft BEC scenario, even if they were able to successfully identify and avoid the traditional BEC scam.

We all have learned (hopefully) not to click links in suspicious looking emails. But trusted emails receive less scrutiny. What steps can you take to avoid being hit?

  • If an email is directing payment by wire or seeks protected information, it merits special treatment.
  • TRAIN employees and establish clear protocols for wire transfers and data privacy.
  • Beware of sudden changes in business practices. Require secondary sign-off by company personnel when a change in payment method is requested.
  • Always verify requested changes via other channels. Don’t click “reply”. Instead, call the sender to verify; and use a trusted phone number, not a phone number appearing in the email. Or forward the email to the sender after typing a trusted email address, and seek confirmation.
  • Be suspicious of requests for urgent action or secrecy.
  • Create intrusion detection system rules that flag e-mails with extensions that are similar to company e-mail.
  • In addition, diligently maintain data and email security. Educate employees to be alert to social engineering situations, and to delete phishing emails. Establish two-factor authentication for email accounts.

If you have questions about how to train employees and avoid these phishing scams, contact a member of the Mintz Levin Privacy team.

Last week the clothing retailer Eddie Bauer LLC issued a press release to announce that its point of sale (“POS”) system at retail stores was compromised by malware for more than six months earlier this year.  The communication provided few details but did specify that the malware allowed attackers to access payment card information related to purchases at Eddie Bauer’s more than 350 locations in the United States, Canada and other international markets from January 2 until July 17, 2016.  According to the company, its e-commerce website was not affected.

In an open letter posted online, Eddie Bauer’s CEO Mike Egeck explained that the company had conducted an investigation, involved third party experts and the FBI, and now is in the process of notifying customers and reviewing its IT systems to bolster security.  These are customary and important steps following a security breach to mitigate harm to customers, protect against future threats, and comply with state data breach notification laws.    Read on to find out more ….. Continue Reading Eddie Bauer Latest Victim of POS Malware Attack

 

Two recent data breach incidents in the healthcare industry prove what readers of this blog have heard all too often:  KNOW THY VENDORS.

Last week, Phoenix-based Banner Health reported one of the year’s largest data breaches.  Banner reported that it had suffered a massive cyberattack potentially affecting the information of 3.7 million patients, health plan members and beneficiaries, providers.   This attack is notable for all companies and not just healthcare providers covered by HIPAA.   Reportedly, the attack occurred through the computer systems that process food and beverage purchases in the Banner system.  In the incident, according to reports, the hackers gained access to the larger systems through the point-of-sale computer system that processes food and beverage purchases.  The attack was discovered on July 13, and Banner believes hackers originally gained access on June 17. Continue Reading To Protect Data: Keep Your Network Access Close, and Your Vendors Closer

On Friday, the heads of the Federal Trade Commission overruled the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in In the Matter of LabMd., Inc. The FTC concluded that the ALJ had erred in dismissing the Commission’s case against a lab testing company LabMD and misapplied the unfairness standard.  The key determination by the FTC was that the mere disclosure of sensitive medical information is cognizable harm under Section 5(c) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(a), irrespective of whether there is further economic or physical harm.   What does this mean for privacy enforcement?   Read on. Continue Reading FTC Plants A Flag With LabMD Ruling: What This Means for Enforcement

Colorado is the latest state to revisit, and expand upon, its laws pertaining to the use and protection of student data. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper recently signed into law House Bill 16-1423 (the “Bill”) designed to increase the transparency and security of personal information about students enrolled in Colorado’s public education system (K-12).  Described by its sponsors and the media as “nation-leading” with respect to the extremely broad scope of the definition of “student personally identifiable information”, the Bill imposes additional, detailed requirements on the Colorado Department of Education, the Colorado Department of Education, the Colorado Charter School Institute, school districts, public schools, and other local education providers (each, a “Public Education Entity”) and commercial software providers (including education application providers) with respect to the collection, use, and security of student data. In this blog post, we focus only on the duties of commercial software or education application providers. Continue Reading Colorado Student Data Privacy Bill – What EdTech software providers need to know

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR)  recently issued a warning regarding vulnerabilities in third-party applications used by entities covered by HIPAA.  The OCR warning applies generally to HIPAA Covered Entities and Business Associates.  While Covered Entities and Business Associates are more cognizant of vulnerabilities in operating systems (like Windows) and install updates and patches as needed (we hope), OCR reported that companies are less likely to do the same for third-party applications (like Adobe’s Acrobat or others). Continue Reading OCR Warns of HIPAA Risks in Third-Party Apps

The number one threat to a company’s information (personal or confidential) is still its own employees. Data security and privacy training are the first lines of defense against negligent employee behavior.

Join us tomorrow (6.22) at 1 PM ET for a webinar in which we will explore why traditional training programs are falling short and what you can do to boost your efforts and counter top concerns regarding malicious and negligent employee handling of personal and confidential data.

Register here.

CLE credit available in NY and CA

 

The Mintz Levin Privacy and Security team is pleased to welcome Brian H. Lam to our group of privacy and security professionals.  Brian comes to Mintz with broad experience in data aggregation, network data security, and technology transactions – in particular, the role security infrastructure plays in both technology transactions and M&A transactions.

Brian brings important real-world technical and legal expertise to our clients:  he has undergraduate and graduate degrees in computer science (B.S. and M.S. from University of Colorado); has worked as a network security analyst prior to entering the University of Southern California law school; and is credentialed as a Certified Information Security Professional (CISSP), which is recognized by security professionals around the world as the field’s premier certification program.

 

 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have issued the long-awaited final procedures for both Federal and Non-Federal Entities under the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) (“Final Procedures”) that provide information on how DHS will implement CISA.  In addition to the Final Procedures, the agencies also released “Guidance to Non-Federal Entities to Share Cyber Threat Indicators and Defensive Measures with Federal Entities under the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015 (the “Guidance”).

As we have written previously, a company may share cyber threat indicators (CTIs) and defensive measures (DMs) for cybersecurity purposes “notwithstanding any other provision of law,” and receive certain liability protections for sharing in accordance with the Act.  The Final Procedures and the Guidance are finalized versions of interim guidance previously discussed.  Any decision to share information under CISA is complex and involves factual and legal determinations.

Read on to find out what CTIs and DMs are, and information on the procedures companies must follow to obtain liability protection for sharing CTIs and DMs with the Federal Government.   Continue Reading “Interim” No More: DHS and DOJ Publish Final CISA Guidance on Cybersecurity Sharing 

At long last, the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has released a revamped audit protocol that now addresses the requirements of the 2013 Omnibus Final Rule. OCR will be using the audit protocol for its impending Phase 2 audits of covered entities and business associates, which are set to begin next month.

The protocol covers the following subject areas:

  • Privacy Rule requirements for (1) notice of privacy practices for PHI, (2) rights to request privacy protection for PHI, (3) access of individuals to PHI, (4) administrative requirements, (5) uses and disclosures of PHI, (6) amendment of PHI, and (7) accounting of disclosures.
  • Security Rule requirements for administrative, physical, and technical safeguards.
  • Breach Notification Rule requirements.

OCR has also released other materials that shed light on the logistics of the audit process, including a copy of the Audit Pre-Screening Questionnaire that it will use to collect demographic information about covered entities and business associates. OCR will use this information to create a pool of potential auditees.

Entities selected for audit will be required by OCR to identify and provide detailed information regarding their business associates.  The information collected by OCR will be used to help identify business associates for the Phase 2 audits. OCR has released a template with the information that covered entities will have to provide, including the business associate’s name, contact information, type of services, and website.

Covered entities and business associates should be working to ensure that they have the required compliance documents and materials ready, especially given OCR’s aggressive timetable: if selected for an audit, an auditee will have only 10 days to respond to OCR.

As we have discussed previously on this blog, the audit protocol is an excellent HIPAA compliance tool, especially for audit readiness assessment.  Unfortunately, the version of the tool on the OCR website can be unwieldy to use in practice.   In order to assist covered entities and business associates with their HIPAA compliance efforts, we have repackaged the audit protocol into a more user-friendly format that can be downloaded here.

 

Originally posted to Mintz Levin’s Health Law & Policy Matters Blog on 4/20/16