Semper Fidelis is the U.S. Marines’ motto – “always faithful.” Perhaps an ironic twist of phrase in the context of its recent and preventable data breach. Let’s recap. The Marine Forces Reserve recently announced that personal information of over 21,000 Marines, sailors, and civilians were “compromised.” The PI included social security numbers, bank account and routing numbers, card information, name, address and other contact information. In other words, PI which is a treasure trove for identity thieves. Some of the PI may have been redacted in part. How did this breach occur? The culprit was an e-mail incorrectly sent with an unencrypted attachment. The email was sent out by the Defense Travel System which manages travel itineraries and expense reimbursement. Obviously sensitive location information is also in play. Probably not a big thing for a travelling salesperson, but highly problematic for defense sector travel.

Continue Reading Semper Fi: Learning From The Marines’ Data Breach

John WayneAll encryption tools are not created equal. Just ask the folks at Microsoft, who have recently demonstrated that encrypted Electronic Medical Record databases can leak information. Turns out that CryptDB, a SQL database add-on developed at MIT that allows searching of encrypted data, allows search queries to be combined with information in the public domain to hack the database. More on this in a minute. In the meantime, let’s consider the assumption that encryption is inviolate/ infrangible/ impervious to hacks. As I mentioned in an earlier post, encryption algorithms are too complex for most laypersons to understand, but we should at least wrap our heads around the concept that encryption is not a “set it and forget it” technology, nor is it foolproof.
Continue Reading Why encryption is less secure than you think

School children raising their hands ready to answer the question.When governing information, it works well to identify and bundle rules (for legal compliance, risk, and value), identify and bundle information (by content and context), and then attach the rule bundles to the information bundles. Classification is a great means to that end, by both framing the questions and supplying the answers. With a classification scheme, we have an upstream “if-then” (if it’s this kind of information, then it has this classification), followed by a downstream “if-then” (if it’s information with this classification, then we treat it this way). A classification scheme is simply a logical paradigm, and frankly, the simpler, the better. For day-to-day efficiency, once the rules and classifications are set, we automate as much and as broadly as possible, thereby avoiding laborious individual decisions that reinvent the wheel.

Easy so far, right? One of the early challenges is to identify and bundle the rules, which can be complicated. For example, take security rules. Defining what information fits in a protected classification for security controls can be daunting, given the various overlapping legal regimes in the United States for PII, PHI, financial institution customer information, and the like. So, let’s take a look, over several posts, at legal definitions for protected information, starting with PII under state statutes.
Continue Reading Adding some class to Information Governance (Part 1)

Image copyright Catherine Lane 2015

My New Year’s resolutions will likely be broken early and often in 2016. My consequences are mostly non-monetary: a few more pounds, a little less savings, and not winning the triathlon in my age group. Your consequences, as a HIPAA-covered entity or business associate, for not complying with the Privacy and Security Rules could be much greater, and could put you into serious debt to the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Therefore, we propose that you resolve now to become fully HIPAA compliant in 2016.

OCR delivered an early holiday gift, wrapped in the Director’s Sept. 23, 2015, report to the Office of Inspector General. In that report, she disclosed that OCR will launch Phase 2 of its HIPAA audit program in early 2016, focusing on noncompliance issues for both covered entities and business associates.

So, grab that cup of hot cocoa and peruse this review of 2014-2015 HIPAA enforcement actions, which should help identify noncompliance issues on which OCR will focus in 2016. 
Continue Reading HIPAA compliance: another year older, but hopefully not deeper in debt

The Eiffel Tower and the Statue of LibertyOnly minutes passed between first learning of the Paris attacks and confirming that our son, studying abroad in France, was safe. But it seemed to last a lifetime. My wife and I were with him in Paris just two weeks earlier, strolling happily a few blocks from where slaughter would soon visit the Bataclan Concert Hall and La Belle Equipe. Then, like a sick, twisted Groundhog Day, it felt like 9/11 all over again.

The Paris terrorism has rekindled an ongoing debate over government surveillance power, personal privacy, and cybersecurity. In this crucial, consequential debate, it behooves us to remember that terrorism’s goal is to trigger emotional, extreme reaction, and that perspective and balance are the antitheses of violent radicalism.
Continue Reading Paris: privacy & cybersecurity déjà-vu

quilt-patchworkiStock_000001968466_LargeAh, Federalism. In countless ways we benefit from a system in which individual states can express their respective policy interests in differing state laws, with the resulting quilt bound together by the Constitution, federal law, and judicial interpretation. But on some topics we end up with a “crazy quilt” … and PII breach notification is trending crazy.

Since 2002, when California enacted the seminal state law mandating notification of individuals whose personally identifiable information (PII) is breached, virtually every state has followed suit. Forty-seven states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands now have such statutes.  Only Alabama, New Mexico, and South Dakota are without one, and under Texas’ statute, companies doing business in Texas that have a PII breach must follow the Texas notification requirements for affected residents of these three states.

These laws are triggered by the affected individual’s residency, not where the breach occurred. So, when an organization with employees or customers in many states suffers a data breach, it must comply with a wide variety of differing and potentially conflicting state breach notification laws. And differ and conflict they do, as the following three examples illustrate.
Continue Reading State breach notification laws: the quilt is getting crazier

wolf-eyesiStock_000012725226_MediumCompanies suffering a data breach have a lot to worry about. High on that list is Norman Siegel, a founding member of Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP. Siegel is a prominent data breach plaintiffs’ lawyer – he helped lead the team representing consumers in the consolidated Target data breach lawsuits, and currently serves as lead counsel representing consumers in the pending Home Depot data breach litigation. He also is co-chair of the Privacy and Data Breach Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice.

I recently asked Siegel for his thoughts on the current landscape of data breach consumer litigation. Here is what he shared.
Continue Reading Words from the wolf at the door

key-digitaliStock_000022243984_LargeSome weeks ago I experienced that sinking feeling that comes with locking your keys in the car. Fortunately, I was only a phone call and a 20-minute wait away from rescue. But how can that happen, you ask, given all the modern safeguards built into automotive key technology? Don’t cars these days alert you or automatically unlock the doors when you leave the key inside?
Continue Reading Decrypting what you need to know about encryption keys