You may not realize how much personal information your insurance company has about you. Scarier still is that much of this data is sensitive and valuable to hackers – such as your Social Security number, financial information, medical history, even itemized schedules of your most expensive personal property.  As data breaches affecting insurers have piled up in the past couple of years (Anthem, Premera Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Excellus Health Plan, UCLA Health System just to name a few), so too have calls for stronger data security protections applicable to insurance data.  In response, the CyberSecurity Task Force of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (“NAIC”), the standard-setting organization in the U.S. insurance industry created and governed by the chief insurance regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories (“Task Force”) is racing to finish its Insurance Data Security Model Law (“Model Law” or “Law”) by the end of this year so that states can begin the adoption process as early as 2017.  Continue Reading Insurance Regulators Fine Tuning Cybersecurity Guidance

The term “cloud computing,”  — a process by which remote computers are used to store, manage and process data — is no longer an unfamiliar term. According to at least one estimate, “approximately 90 percent of businesses using the cloud in some fashion.” American Airlines is assessing major providers of cloud services for an eventual relocation of certain portions of its customer website and other applications to the cloud.

What some may not realize is that there are actually three main types of clouds: public, private and hybrid.  Public clouds are those run by a service provider, over a public network.  For example, Amazon Web Services offers public cloud services, among others.  A private cloud is operated for a single entity, and may be hosted internally or by a third-party service provider.  A hybrid cloud is a composition of two or more clouds, such as a private cloud and a public cloud, such that the benefits of both can be realized where appropriate.  Each of these cloud infrastructure types has different advantages and disadvantages.

For a given company looking to migrate to the cloud, the appropriate option will be motivated in part by business considerations; however, data privacy and security laws, compliance best practices, and contractual obligations will provide mandatory baselines that companies cannot ignore. As such, relevant laws, best practices, and contractual obligations serve as a useful starting point when evaluating the appropriate cloud option.

Most every organization has data flow systems that receive data, and then process and use the data to deliver a service. Below are three initial steps a decision maker should take when evaluating a potential cloud infrastructure choice.


First, consider the statutory implications of the types of data being processed

For example, is the system collecting social security numbers and driver’s license numbers? Pursuant to California Civil Code Section 1798.81.5, businesses that “own or license” personal information concerning a California resident are required to “implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices . . . to protect the personal information from unauthorized access, destruction, use modification, or disclosure.”  Of course, many other state and federal laws may also provide additional obligations, such as the HIPAA Security Rule, which applies to certain health information under certain circumstances.

Deciding which relevant laws apply, and then interpreting language such as “reasonable security procedures and practices” is a complicated process. Companies should consult experienced legal counsel regarding these risks, especially in light of potential liability.

Second, consider any relevant contractual obligations

For example, many companies may have contracts that provide for certain service level availability (SLA) obligations for services they provide. It is also possible that these contracts could have their own security requirements in place that must be met.

Third, decide which cloud architecture option makes sense in light of the first two steps as well as business considerations

After senior decision makers, with the benefit of experienced legal counsel, have decided what elements of applicable laws, best practices, and contractual obligations apply, further business considerations may need to be addressed from an operational standpoint.  For example, interoperability with other services may be an issue, or scalability may be an issue.


Through these requirements, in conjunction with appropriate information technology stakeholders, the appropriate cloud architecture can be chosen. Private clouds can offer the strongest security controls, as they are operated by a single entity and can offer security options not present in public clouds.  As such, a private cloud may be appropriate where a very strong security stance is deemed necessary.  Public clouds are often less expensive, but offer a more limited range of security options.  A hybrid cloud may be appropriate where an entity hosts certain high security data flow systems, as well as other systems with less sever security requirements.  For example an entity that has an HR system that contains social security numbers, as well as an employee shift scheduling system might choose to host the HR system on a private cloud, while hosting the customer feedback system on a public cloud system, with limited cross over and interoperability between the two systems.

Once you have chosen which cloud suits your business and data flow, the real work of getting appropriate contract documents in place begins.   We’ll discuss those issues in a future blog post.


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.