As if the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey are not bad enough, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) of the Department of Homeland Security is warning of a different threat:  falling victim (or exposing your entire company) to Harvey-related phishing schemes.

Fraudulent emails carrying malware payloads or directing users to phishing or malware-infected websites have been identified and US-CERT is issuing cautions.  Emails requesting donations or appearing as “breaking news” alerts often appear during and after major natural disasters.

The warning continues:

US-CERT encourages users and administrators to use caution when encountering these types of email messages and take the following preventative measures to protect themselves from phishing scams and malware campaigns:

Make sure to take a minute and remind your network users about this scam so that we don’t create a new set of Harvey-related victims out of those who were just trying to help.

 

Recently the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), an organization within the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) and a branch of the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications’ (CS&C) National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC), encouraged users and administrators to review a recent article from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding Building a Digital Defense with an Email Fortress.

Are we have discussed in many posts before, phishing — the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from a reputable entity to induce an individual to reveal privileged information such as a password — remains a major security threat.  Within the article, the FBI provides several helpful actions for businesses can take to reduce their risk of being phished, including reporting and deleting suspicious e-mails, and making sure that countermeasures such as firewalls, virus software, and spam filters are robust and up-to-date.

We encourage each of our readers to review the FBI’s guidance and consider whether their organization could benefit from any of the methods of protection provided.

Companies with any questions regarding any of these issues should not hesitate to contact the team at Mintz Levin.

Another day, another data incident.  If you use DocuSign, you’ll want to pay attention.

The provider of e-signature technology has acknowledged a data breach incident in which an unauthorized third party gained access to the email addresses of DocuSign users.   Those email addresses have now been used to launch a massive spam campaign.   By using the stolen email address database and sending “official” looking emails, cyber criminals are hoping that recipients will be more likely to click on and open the malicious links and attachments.

DocuSign’s alert to users says in part:

[A]s part of our ongoing investigation, today we confirmed that a malicious third party had gained temporary access to a separate, non-core system that allows us to communicate service-related announcements to users via email. A complete forensic analysis has confirmed that only email addresses were accessed; no names, physical addresses, passwords, social security numbers, credit card data or other information was accessed. No content or any customer documents sent through DocuSign’s eSignature system was accessed; and DocuSign’s core eSignature service, envelopes and customer documents and data remain secure.

A portion of the phish in the malicious campaign looks like this:

 

Two phishing campaigns already detected and more likely

The DocuSign Trust Center has posted alerts notifying users of two large phishing campaigns launched on May 9 and again on May 15.

The company is now advising customers NOT TO OPEN emails with the following subject lines, used in the two spam campaigns.

  • Completed: [domain name]  – Wire transfer for recipient-name Document Ready for Signature
  • Completed [domain name/email address] – Accounting Invoice [Number] Document Ready for Signature

We recommend that you change your DocuSign password in light of this incident as an extra measure of caution.    Also, DocuSign (and other similar services) offer two-factor authentication, and we strongly recommend that you take advantage of this extra security measure.

As always, think before you click.

UPDATE:  Europol chief Rob Wainwright told the BBC, “Companies need to make sure they have updated their systems and ‘patched where they should’ before staff arrives for work on Monday morning.”

By now, you may have heard about the global ransomware attacks affecting organizations throughout the world. Estimates range from between 150,000 to 200,000 groups in nearly 150 countries, and those numbers could be higher.  The ransomware variant, called “Wanna Decryption” or “WannaCry” works like any other ransomware: once it is inadvertently installed, it locks up the organization’s data until ransom is paid. Here are some quick facts about the WannaCry attack and suggestions for avoiding it.

How does ransomware get onto a system generally? 

Ransomware installs on a victim’s computer when a user clicks on a malicious link in a “phishing” email (or an email designed to trick the user into thinking that it is from a known or legitimate source). Ransomware can also be downloaded through infected file attachments or visiting a website that is malicious in nature. WannaCry appears to be delivered through links in phishing emails. You can read more about ransomware generally here, here and here.   See graphic of malicious file message.

How does WannaCry work? WannaCry affects systems that are behind in their Windows patching. There is actually a patch for the vulnerability exploited by WannaCry (see, US-CERT article on Microsoft SMBv1 Vulnerability and the Microsoft Security Bulletin MS17-010).   See the following links for additional technical information:

Is any system particularly vulnerable? 

Because Windows Server 2003 or older, and Windows XP or older on the desktop, have been discontinued by Microsoft and are unsupported, these systems are particularly vulnerable. In response, Microsoft has taken the highly unusual step of releasing emergency security patches to defend against the malware for these unsupported versions of Windows, such as XP and Server 2003. Everyone should be actively checking systems and updating.   This may be the first time that Microsoft has ever issued patches for decommissioned software.

What are immediate steps for an organization that is attacked?

An organization that is attacked should immediately isolate the affected systems and networks to avoid the spread of the malware and contact law enforcement.

How can a WannaCry victim regain access to data? 

Once WannaCry or other ransomware installs and locks up a victim’s data, the only alternatives are: 1) restore data from clean backup systems; or 2) pay the ransom.

How can WannaCry and other types of ransomware be avoided?

  • A comprehensive and continually updated security risk assessment
  • A security risk assessment that doesn’t address ransomware is out of date
  • Workforce training on ransomware – make sure that the workforce understands the importance of avoiding suspicious email messages, links and attachments
  • Workforce testing on ransomware – send suspect phishing emails and see how many click on the suspicious links.
  • Maintain comprehensive data backup systems – make sure that they are easily accessible in the event of an emergency (practice accessing them in a non-emergency)!

We will provide further information on the WannaCry attack as it becomes available.

 

While your business may indeed be a “victim” when hit by a phishing attack, your enterprise can also be responsible for violations of law associated with the incident.   Earlier this week, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) announced a $400,000 settlement with Metro Community Provider Network (“MCPN”) related to a 2012 HIPAA breach caused by a phishing scam. The phishing scam, carried out by accessing MCPN employees’ email accounts, gave a hacker access to the electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) of 3,200 individuals. In investigating the breach, OCR determined that, prior to the breach, MCPN had not conducted a security risk analysis (a requirement under HIPAA). Further, OCR found that even after MCPN conducted a risk analysis, its analysis was insufficient to meet the requirements of the HIPAA Security Rule.

In addition to the $400,000 fine, MCPN agreed to a corrective action plan with OCR. That plan requires MCPN to conduct a comprehensive risk analysis and to submit a written report on the risk analysis to OCR. Additionally, MCPN will be required to develop an organization-wide risk management plan, to review and revise its Security Rule policies and procedures, to review and revise its Security Rule training materials, and to report to OCR any instance of a workforce member failing to comply with its Security Rule policies and procedures.

The MCPH settlement underscores the importance of risk analyses and workforce training to avoid phishing scams. Additionally, it is crucial that entities regulated by HIPAA conduct an enterprise-wide HIPAA risk analysis, update that analysis to address new threats, and implement policies and training based on identified risks. Failure to comply with these essential HIPAA requirements can turn a relatively routine breach investigation into a $400,000 settlement.

A copy of the MCPN resolution agreement and corrective action plan is available here. OCR’s press release on the settlement is available here. General Security Rule guidance from OCR is available here.

 

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.

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.

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.

Privacy & Security Matters Monday Blog Series ImageA new month, a new Privacy Monday.

JPMorgan Chase:  Baiting the Hook for Phishers 

Cybercrime researchers say that the 83 million customer records (76 million consumer and 7 million small business) swiped from JPMC could be the fuel for years of fraud.  In its 10-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, JPMC disclosed the nature and scope of the information.   See herePay attention to the fact that hackers penetrated one of the world’s largest banks and stole nothing of apparent value:  they did not steal a single account number, Social Security number or password.  Continue Reading Privacy Monday – October 6, 2014

Written by Amy Malone

Last week the FBI released a fraud alert warning financial institutions that cyber criminals have been using tactics such as spam and phishing emails to obtain employee log-in credentials.  After obtaining the credentials the hackers initiated wire transfers oversees.  A few days after the alert, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase  and Wells Fargo suffered service outages that prevented access to their websites.  According to security experts, such outages were likely caused by denial of service attacks that disrupt the service to websites by overloading the servers with traffic so that they cannot respond to legitimate requests.

These attacks have been aimed at financial institutions, but are a good reminder to all organizations that cyber security remains an important aspect of your company’s overall security.  Technology is constantly changing and hackers are always finding new ways to penetrate systems so it’s important for organizations to analyze their systems and make updates as necessary.

Where do you start?  Below are a few tips for combating cyber security threats:

1) Remain vigilant.  No security system is 100% secure so it’s important to review the safety measures you have in place and identify gaps.  A good way to identify such gaps is by hiring a third party to perform penetration tests on your systems.  Malicious attacks are simulated in penetration tests which will enable your organization to identify how your protections fail.  It’s also important to run regular scans of your network for vulnerabilities and make sure your firewalls are as strong as possible.  Investing in security technology before you have a breach will save your organization time and money in the long run.

2) Train your employees.  According to a recent article published by Computerworld, most data breaches are inadvertently caused by employees.  An organization can have the most robust cyber security system available, but if employees are not trained and re-trained about the importance of protecting sensitive information then there are going to be data breaches.  It’s important to educate employees on how to protect information, including the threats posed by spam and phishing emails.

3) Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt.  Encryption of information at all stages will  information useless if it is obtained during a hack.

4) Vet your vendors.  Is your company providing sensitive information to third parties (storing documents offsite?  That counts!)?  If so, it’s essential that your company conduct reviews of vendors to ensure their security measures meet your standards.   What about your vendor’s vendors?  See our previous blog here discussing that topic.

Protecting your company’s personal information is an on-going challenge.  If you need help building your data security program contact any member of your Mintz Levin service team, or one of Mintz Levin’s privacy lawyers.