On April 24, 2017, the Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) announced the first HIPAA settlement based on the impermissible disclosure of unsecured electronic protected health information by a wireless service provider. CardioNet, an ambulatory cardiac monitoring service, provides remote mobile monitoring of and rapid response to patients at risk for cardiac arrhythmias, agreed to pay $2.5 million, and to implement a corrective action plan.

As reported by the OCR, in 2012 CardioNet reported to the OCR the theft of a workforce member’s unencrypted laptop containing electronic PHI (“ePHI”) of 1,391 individuals. OCR’s investigation revealed that CardioNet had an insufficient risk analysis and risk management processes in place at the time of the theft.   Additionally, CardioNet’s provided the OCR draft policies and procedures implementing the HIPAA Security standards, and was unable to produce final policies or procedures implementing the security safeguards for ePHI, including mobile devices. Continue Reading Mighty Fine – The High Cost ($2.5 Million) for Unsecured ePHI

Ransomware. It is the word every corporate board and IT team fears. Ransomware is a type of malicious software that can quickly shut down an entire network of computers and compromise an enormous amount of critical data. Often, when a ransomware attack occurs, all connected systems are locked down and a message appears on the victim’s screen stating that the victim’s system has been encrypted and that the victim’s data has been compromised. The attacker threatens to publish or delete the stolen data and systems unless the victim pays a ransom, which is typically demanded in the Bitcoin currency.

On May 12, 2017, they now-infamous WannaCry ransomware attack caught worldwide headlines when attackers compromised over 230,000 computers in over 150 countries by exploiting a vulnerability in certain versions of the Microsoft Windows operating system software. Many experts in the cybersecurity industry predict that 2017 will be the year of ransomware.

Unfortunately, most companies are unaware of how to respond to or prevent ransomware and other cyberattacks. This post provides simple, yet key steps that should be taken to prepare for and minimize the risk of a business-disrupting cyber attack:

  1. Invest in cybersecurity. There is no “silver bullet” program that will prevent a cyberattack or ensure the complete security of your system.  However, there are many industry-tested and trusted programs and services available to protect your systems. Research the right security programs for your business and invest wisely. Also, understand that the cyberattack landscape is ever-evolving. Remain current with emerging threats. Cybersecurity is a process, not a single product or program.
  2. Update software regularly. WannaCry exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows software. By installing readily available security patches, companies could have protected themselves from the attack. However, many companies had not installed the updates and patches and found themselves to be the unfortunate victims of theft and extortion. Update or remove outdated software.
  3. Create off-network, secure backups of data and programs regularly. When a ransomware attack occurs, one of the first and most pressing orders of business will be to restore the system and data without having to pay the attacker. This is possible only if you have secure and up-to-date backups readily available. Generally speaking, these backups must be separate from the compromised network or they too will be inaccessible.
  4. Conduct periodic system audits. Even if you have the best security software available, vulnerabilities arise and hackers seek to capitalize upon them.  Invest in IT audits to identify system weaknesses and address them quickly. Conduct penetration testing and track outside attempts to attack your systems.
  5. Address cybersecurity risks in all vendor, software and service-provider contracts. Most companies have a number of different software providers, service providers and other vendors who have access to their IT systems. Yet, they often overlook cybersecurity issues in their contracts. It is critical to ensure your vendors also have industry standard security protocols in place to protect you. You can also include a variety of contractual provisions to ensure you are protected and your own risk is minimized in the event of an attack.
  6. Assemble a response team and plan. Have an experienced legal and forensic team lined up before you need them. When a ransomware attack occurs, you’ll need an internal C-suite team, as well as experienced cybersecurity attorneys and an IT forensic team who can assist you. Ideally, these professionals will have relationships with law enforcement and other professionals who you may need to call upon.
  7. Know what a Bitcoin is and how to obtain them. Do you know how to get 300 Bitcoin if needed?
  8. Create a public relations response plan. You will need to tailor it to your circumstances, but ransomware attacks happen quickly and can rapidly become public. Be ready to respond quickly and appropriately.
  9. Educate your employees. Cyberattacks are often caused by human error.  Educate your employees to help minimize the risk of an attack. Your employees are often your first line of defense and can spot malicious emails and suspicious activity.
  10. Obtain cyberliability insurance. Cyberliability insurance can’t prevent a malicious attack, but it can offset some of the enormous expense that can come with an attack.

Generally, one hears the term “big data” and, in the next breath, about the host of privacy issues implicated by that big data. Indeed, a quick google search confirms that in many of the top links appearing in a google search of “big data” include the word “privacy.”

There is a reason for this, of course: big data often contains a lot of information aggregated from different sources about individuals. Many times, consumer do not know in the first place that different pieces of information about them have been collected (or, if they know it has been collected, they do not know the information has been retained); they do not know that such information has been aggregated; and they do not know the aggregated information has been (and is being) further disseminated. Single pieces of information on their own pose a privacy risk. The aggregation of the information, which is then disseminated, poses a greater and different privacy risk.
Continue Reading Alternate (Data) Universe

As technology advances, the advertising world is keeping pace. Companies can now advertise more easily and effectively across the Internet. However, the risks associated with that convenience are becoming more and more apparent.

Many companies employ third-party advertising services that use online consumer data and automated software to place advertisements across millions of websites, thousands of apps, and different user-generated video services. Unfortunately, because of this wide-reaching marketing tool, organizations employing targeted ads risk having their advertisement and brand displayed alongside offensive content. (Some types and uses of targeted ads have even faced legal challenges.)

Continue Reading Targeted Ads Using Consumer Data May Target Risky Sites (and how to prevent it)

Last week, a number of Husch Blackwell attorneys participated in the firm’s sponsorship of the 2017 South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference and Festivals in Austin, Texas. A contingency of our Healthcare attorneys attended the sessions and staffed our booth at the SXSW Trade Show’s Health Pavilion. There were several sessions focused on emerging health technology which is increasingly pushing the limits of HIPAA.

Our blog post from the SXSW Conference details some of the new technologies being developed, what this means for patient data, a quick primer on the privacy and security components of HIPAA and the Federal Trade Commission’s involvement in the topic.

Internet search giant Yahoo!Inc. (“Yahoo”) revealed last year that it was the victim of two massive data breaches back in 2013 and 2014 that potentially affected more than 1.5 billion users. Investigations into the incidents continue to reveal potentially damning information regarding what the company knew and when, how the company responded to the breaches, and the status of Yahoo’s information security at the time of the breaches. The details that have emerged paint the picture of a company that failed to adhere to basic data security requirements. Unfortunately, the technology company will likely become a case-study in what happens when an organization fails to follow security best practices.

Continue Reading Yahoo Data Breaches: A Lesson in What Not to Do

Talking with bestie on social media!Remember when Edward Snowden showed the world how easy it is for your cell phone to record everything you say? Initial gut reaction for many was something along the lines of disbelief to shock. As time went by, many people took comfort in the idea that the government could not care less about their day-to-day activities. After all—for most of us—our day consists of the daily routine of workout, work, and daily errands. Yet, spying is not limited to the intelligence community. As we have seen again and again, health information is particularly valuable. Devices such as Internet cameras (think security cameras) or perhaps even web cams (the little lens that stares from the top of your laptop) pose risks to health data. Many health entities have not considered the unique risks posed by such devices, but it is a risk the Federal Trade Commission is not ignoring. Continue Reading IoT Security: Same…Err…Stuff, Different Day

dataLocks148650499Colleges and universities frequently hire third-party vendors to provide services that involve student data—cloud storage, online education delivery, and online grade books to name a few. Although the arrangements are common, they can run afoul of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) (FERPA) and other data privacy best practices. Colleges and universities should contemplate privacy and security issues when contracting with third-party vendors and include language in the service agreement that identifies exactly what information is being shared and protects how the information can be used in the future. Continue Reading 5 simple rules for FERPA contracting compliance

Computer virus infection skull of death flat illustration for websitesYou recently engaged a contract HR recruiter to work onsite helping with increased hiring. The contractor is reviewing hundreds of job applications for several new job postings. Not surprisingly, many of the job applications have a PDF resume attached. The contract recruiter clicks on one of the attached resumes and enables the associated macro to run. Suddenly, the recruiter gets a screen notifying him that unless a ransom is paid, the victim will not be able to access their files. Not the best way to start off the week for HR, IT, or security employees. Continue Reading HR Bewar(y): Job applications and resumes could have ransomware attached