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HHS Issues Warning About Phishing Campaign Disguised As Official Communication

As part of its efforts to assess compliance with the HIPAA Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) engages in audits of covered entities and their business associates.

On November 28, 2016, the OCR issued an alert warning covered entities about a phishing e-mail that is being circulated on mock HHS Departmental letterhead under the signature of OCR’s Director, Jocelyn Samuels.  The e-mail purportedly prompts the receiver to click a link regarding possible inclusion in the HIPPA Privacy, Security, and Breach Rules and Audit Program, and directs the recipient to a non-governmental website.  The phishing e-mail originates from the e-mail address OSOCRAudit@hhs-gov.us and directs individuals to http://www.hhs-gov.us.  This is a slight difference from the official e-mail address for the HIPAA audit program, OSOCRAudit@hhs.gov, and the official HHS website http://www.hhs.gov.

The OCR advises covered entities and their business associates to alert employees of this issue and take note that official communications regarding the HIPAA audit program are to be sent to selected auditees from the official e-mail address OSOCRAudit@hhs.gov.

A copy of the OCR alert can be found here.

If you or one of your entities has received this phishing e-mail, the Dentons Privacy and Cybersecurity Law Group is available to help you navigate next steps.

HHS Issues Warning About Phishing Campaign Disguised As Official Communication

FTC Announces New Guidance on Ransomware

On November 10, 2016, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released new guidance for businesses and consumers on the impact of, and how to respond to ransomware.  Ransomware is a form of malicious software that infiltrates computer systems or networks and uses tools like encryption to deny access or hold data hostage until the victim pays a ransom.  Ransomware incidents have increased over the past year, including a number of high-profile attacks on health care organizations.

Business Guidance

For businesses, the FTC released Ransomware – A closer look with a companion video Defend against Ransomware.  A copy of both can be found here.

According to the FTC, if your business holds consumers’ sensitive information “you should be concerned about the threat of ransomware.”  The FTC notes it can impose “serious economic costs on businesses because it can disrupt operations or even shut down a business entirely.”

In order to defend against ransomware attacks, the FTC recommends businesses invest in prevention through:

  • Training and education: Implement education and awareness programs to train employees to exercise caution online and avoid phishing attacks.
  • Cyber hygiene:  Practice good security by implementing basic cyber hygiene principles (including updating software, and implementing new procedures for users).
  • Backups:  Backup data early and often.
  • Planning:  Plan for an attack.  Develop and test incident response and business continuity plans.

For those businesses hit with a ransomware attack, the FTC recommends organizations take the following steps:

  • Implement the continuity plan:  Have a tested incident response and business continuity plan in place.
  • Contact law enforcement:  Immediately contact law enforcement, such as a local FBI field office, if an attack is discovered.
  • Contain the attack:  Keep ransomware from spreading to networked drives by disconnecting the infected device from the network.

Consumer Guidance

For consumers, the FTC released How to defend against ransomware.  A copy of this guidance can be found here.  The FTC recommends consumers take the following steps to protect against ransomware:

  • Update your software:  Use anti-virus software and keep it up to date.  Set your operating system, web browser and security software to update automatically, and on mobile devices do it manually.
  • Think twice before clicking on links or downloading attachments or applications:  You can get ransomware from visiting a compromised site or through malicious online ads.
  • Back up files:  Back up files whenever possible, and make it part of your routine.

If you are a victim of a ransomware attack, the FTC recommends:

  • Disconnecting the infected devices from the network;
  • Restoring the infected device where possible; and
  • Contacting law enforcement.

Next Steps

If you or your organization becomes a victim of ransomware, or you are interested in developing a comprehensive prevention plan, Dentons’ Privacy and Cybersecurity Group is ready to help.

FTC Announces New Guidance on Ransomware

NIST and USCG Issue New Maritime Industry Cybersecurity Profile

In 2013, President Obama issued Executive Order 13636 and directed the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to “lead the development of a framework to reduce cybersecurity risks to critical infrastructure” (Cybersecurity Framework).  The Cybersecurity Framework was published in February 2014.  A number of industries are integrating the Cybersecurity Framework, including by creating industry-focused Framework Profiles (Profiles) as described in the Cybersecurity Framework.

This month, NIST and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) released a “Maritime Bulk Liquids Transfer Cybersecurity Framework Profile” (Bulk Liquids Transfer Profile) to address the vulnerabilities in the transfer process of bulk hazardous liquids in the maritime industry.  These transfers are often a part of a sophisticated supply chain that uses multiple networked systems, and is therefore vulnerable to attack.   The new profile serves to assist in cybersecurity risk assessments for those entities involved in maritime bulk liquids transfer operations as overseen by the USCG, and is intended to act as “non-mandatory guidance to organizations conducting” maritime bulk liquids transfer operations within facilities and vessels under the regulatory control of the USCG under the Code of Federal Regulations 33 CFR 154-156.

The stated benefits of creating the new Bulk Liquids Transfer Profile include:

  • Compliance reporting becoming a byproduct of running an organization’s security operation;
  • Adding new security requirements will become more straightforward;
  • Adding or changing operational methodology will be less intrusive to ongoing operations;
  • Minimizing future work by future organizations;
  • Decreasing the chance that organizations will accidentally omit a requirement;
  • Facilitating understanding of the bulk liquid transfers environment to allow for consistent analysis of cybersecurity-risk; and
  • Aligning industry and USCG cybersecurity priorities.

Other benefits include strengthening strategic communications between:

  • Risk executives and operational technology integration of cybersecurity capabilities;
  • Personnel involved in cybersecurity governance processes and operational technology oversight; and
  • Enterprises who are just becoming aware of cybersecurity recommended practices with subject matter expertise and the collective wisdom of industry experts.

The new profile can be found here.

NIST and USCG Issue New Maritime Industry Cybersecurity Profile

Internet of Things (IoT) Security Takes Center Stage At FBI, DHS, NIST and Congress

On October 21, 2016, a domain name service host and internet management company experienced at least two waves of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that impacted at least 80 websites, including those belonging to Netflix, Twitter and CNN.  The attack was launched by infecting millions of American’s Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices with a variation of the Mirai malware.  The Mirai malware primarily targets IoT devices such as routers, digital video records and webcams / security cameras by exploiting their use of default usernames and passwords and coordinating them into a botnet used to conduct DDoS attacks.  The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) does not have confirmation of a group or individual responsible for the attack.  In September 2016, two of the largest IoT DDoS attacks using the same malware disrupted the operations of a gaming server and computer security blogger website.

In light of these attacks, there has been an increased focus on IoT security at the FBI, the U.S. Department of Homeland and Security (DHS), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Capitol Hill.

FBI Guidance

Five days after the October 21, 2016 attack, the FBI issued a Private Industry Notification, providing a list of precautionary measures stakeholders should take to mitigate “a range of potential DDoS threats and IoT compromise,” including but not limited to:

  • Having a DDoS mitigation strategy ready ahead of time and keeping logs of any potential attacks;
  • Implementing an incident response plan that includes DDoS mitigation.  The plan may involve external organizations such as law enforcement;
  • Implementing a data back-up and recovery plan to maintain copies of sensitive or proprietary data in a separate and secure location;
  • Reviewing reliance on easily identified internet connections for critical operations, particularly those shared with public facing web servers;
  • Ensuring upstream firewalls are in place to block incoming UDP packets;
  • Changing default credentials on all IoT devices; and
  • Ensuring that software or firmware updates are applied as soon as the device manufacturer releases them.

A copy of the FBI Notification can be found here.

DHS Guidance

On November 15, 2016, the DHS issued its own non-binding guidance for prioritizing IoT security, aimed at IoT developers, IoT manufacturers, service providers, industrial and business-level consumers.  According to the DHS, there are six non-binding principles that, if followed, will help account for security as stakeholders develop, manufacture, implement or use network-connected devices.

Principle #1 – Incorporate Security at the Design Phase

The DHS notes that security should be evaluated as an integral component of any network-connected device.  Building security “in at the design phase reduces potential disruptions and avoids the much more difficult and expensive endeavor of attempting to add security to products after they have been developed and deployed.”  To that end, the DHS suggests the following practices:

  • Enable security by default through unique, hard to crack default user names and passwords.
  • Build the device using the most recent operating system that is technically viable and economically feasible.
  • Use hardware that incorporates security features to strengthen the protection and integrity of the device.
  • Design with system and operational disruption in mind.

Principle #2 – Advance Security Updates and Vulnerability Management

Even when security is included at the design stage, vulnerabilities may be discovered in products after they have been sent to market.  The DHS notes these flaws can be mitigated through patching, security updates, and vulnerability management strategies.  Suggested practices include:

  • Consider ways to secure the device over network connections or through automated means.
  • Consider coordinating software updates among third-party vendors to address vulnerabilities and security improvements to ensure consumer devices have the complete set of current protections.
  • Develop automated mechanisms for addressing vulnerabilities.
  • Develop a policy regarding the coordinated disclosure of vulnerabilities, including associated security practices to address identified vulnerabilities.
  • Develop an end-of-life strategy for IoT products.

Principle #3 – Build on Proven Security Practices

According to the DHS, many tested practices used in traditional IT and network security can be applied to IoT, and can help identify vulnerabilities, detect irregularities, respond to potential incidents and recover from damage or disruption to IoT devices.  The DHS recommends NIST’s framework for cybersecurity risk management, which has widely been adopted by private industry and integrated across sectors.  Other suggested practices include:

  • Start with basic software security and cyber security practices, and apply them to the IoT ecosystem in flexible, adaptive and innovative ways.
  • Refer to relevant Sector-Specific Guidance, where it exists, as a starting point from which to consider security practices (e.g., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released guidance on Cybersecurity Best Practices for Modern Vehicles and the Food and Drug Administration released draft guidance on Postmarket Management of Cybersecurity in Medical Devices).
  • Practice defense in depth.
  • Participate in information sharing platforms to report vulnerabilities and receive timely and critical information about current cyber threats and vulnerabilities from public  and private partners.

Principle #4 – Prioritize Security Measures According to Potential Impact

The DHS recognizes that risk models differ substantially across the IoT ecosystem, and the consequences of a security failure will vary significantly.  The DHS therefore recommends:

  • Knowing a device’s intended use and environment, where possible;
  • Performing a “red-teaming” exercise where developers actively try to bypass the security measures needed at the application, network, data or physical layers; and
  • Identifying and authenticating the devices connected to the network, especially for industrial consumers and business networks.

Principle #5 – Promote Transparency Across IoT

Where possible, the DHS recommends that developers and manufacturers know their supply chain, and whether there are any associated vulnerabilities with the software and hardware components provided by vendors outside their organization.  This increased awareness could help manufacturers and industrial consumers identify where and how to apply security measures or build in redundancies.  Recommended practices include:

  • Conduct end-to-end risk assessments that account for both internal and third party vendor risks, where possible.
  • Consider the creation of a publicly disclosed mechanism for using vulnerability reports.
  • Consider developing and employing a software bill of materials that can be used as a means of building shared trust among vendors and manufacturers.

Principle #6 – Connect Carefully and Deliberately

The DHS notes that consumers, particularly in the industrial context, should “deliberately consider whether continuous connectivity is needed given the use of the IoT device and the risks associated with its disruption.”  To that end, suggested practices include:

  • Advise IoT consumers on the intended purpose of any network connections
  • Making intentional connections.
  • Build in controls to allow manufacturers, service providers, and consumers to disable network connections or specific ports when needed or desired to enable selective connectivity.

A copy of the DHS guidance can be found here.

NIST Guidelines

On November 15, 2016, NIST released its own guidance advising IoT manufacturers and developers to implement security safeguards and to monitor those systems on a regular basis.  NIST is responsible for developing information security standards and guidelines, including minimum requirements for federal information systems.  The new NIST Special Publication 800-160 is the product of four years of research and development, and focuses largely on engineering actions that are required to ensure connected devices are able to prevent and recover from cyber attacks, and lays out dozens of technical standards and security principles for developers to consider.

A complete copy of the NIST guidance can be found here.

Congressional Hearing

One day after the DHS and NIST guidance was released, on November 16, 2016, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade and the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing on “Understanding the Role of Connected Devices in Recent Cyber Attacks.”  The witnesses were Dale Drew of Level 3 Communications, Kevin Fu of Virta Labs and the University of Michigan, and Bruce Schneier from the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University.

The witnesses uniformly recommended that while the DDos attack in October was just on popular websites, and not critical infrastructure, attacks toward critical infrastructure, including public safety and hospital systems, are likely.  Each witness stressed the importance of addressing the vulnerabilities at the onset of developing technology, and urged greater oversight by lawmakers.

A video of this hearing can be found here.

Internet of Things (IoT) Security Takes Center Stage At FBI, DHS, NIST and Congress

Lessons Learned: E-Learning Company Faces $50,000 Spam Fine

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has issued its first Compliance and Enforcement Decision* under Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL).  The Commission confirmed the staff finding that Blackstone Learning Corp. had committed 9 violations of CASL by sending almost 400,000 emails in 2014 without proper consent.  However, the Commission reduced the administrative monetary penalty originally set in the notice of violation from $640,000 to $50,000.  While it is open to Blackstone to appeal the decision, meaning that we may not have heard the last of this case, the Commission’s decision provides useful commentary on its approach to CASL compliance and enforcement.  The following are lessons learned under two headings: implied consent, and what we will refer to as “sender conduct”.

Email addresses posted online – ripe for the picking as “implied consent”?

Not so fast, cautions the CRTC.  While addresses that have been “conspicuously published” online or otherwise may qualify for implied consent, this “does not provide persons sending commercial electronic messages [CEMs] with a broad licence to contact any electronic address they find online”.  The CASL conditions attached to “conspicuous publication” set a higher standard than that.  As a starting point, the person who receives the email message must have posted his address himself, or authorized it to be posted.  Often, an employer will post contact information including an employee’s email address, which for the purposes of CASL implies that CEMs can be sent IF there is no indication otherwise, and IF the messages are relevant to the person’s business role or function.

As the CRTC points out, if a business chooses to advertise through a third party (our example: an online service provider listing) and includes an employee’s contact information along with the ad, this can be the basis for implied consent to contact the employee in relation either to the ad or to the employee’s role, because the account holder (the employer) caused the publication.  Implied consent stops there:  if the listing service goes on to copy or sell the list of addresses on its own, new senders can no longer count on the “conspicuous publication” implied consent, because the account holder did not authorize any further publication.

Lesson learned:  Implied consent is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  Under CASL, the onus is on the sender to prove consent.  The CRTC “stress[es] the importance of detailed and effective record-keeping for this reason.”

What is a “reasonable” monetary penalty under the CASL regime?  How important are the sender’s conduct and circumstances?

CRTC staff set out an administrative monetary penalty (AMP) of $640,000 in the notice of violation issued to Blackstone.  Having determined that Blackstone did commit the CASL violations, the Commission considered whether the AMP was reasonable.  CASL sets out a number of factors to be taken into consideration.

  • purpose of the penalty: the Commission stated that the amount must be representative of the violations, and have enough of an impact on a person to promote changes in behavior, in effect a second chance. An amount high enough to put a person out of business would mean he would no longer have that second chance.  An AMP of $640,000 would be too high.
  • nature and scope of the violations:  while almost 400,000 non-compliant messages were sent, were disruptive to the recipients, and prompted at least 60 complaints to the Spam Reporting Centre, the violations took place over only 2 months, and suggests that an AMP of $640,000 would be too high.
  • ability to pay:  based on the evidence, an AMP of $640,000 would significantly exceed Blackstone’s ability to pay.
  • other factors – cooperation and self-correction:  Blackstone’s failure to cooperate with the investigation increased the need for a penalty to ensure future compliance. However, the Commission saw some possibility of “self-correction” going forward, which suggested that a lower AMP would be appropriate.

The Commission decided on the amount of $50,000.  The Commission noted that Blackstone did not have the benefit of more recent CASL guidance which is now available to everyone online.  This should be read as a thinly-veiled direction to others:  the decision cites The Commission’s Guidance on Implied Consent for CASL and also the Department of Industry’s Fightspam information website for businesses and individuals.

Lesson learned:  the Commission expects organizations to do their homework, to cooperate with investigations, and to self-correct when they discover mistakes.

We have been assisting many organizations in Canada and other countries to adapt their practices to comply with CASL.  Let us know if we can help you.

*A number of organizations have been subject to CASL enforcement since the Act came into force in July 2014; some of these cases have not been made public, and others have been publicly available only through brief settlement summaries.  This is the first Commission decision reviewing a Compliance and Enforcement Sector notice of violation.

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Lessons Learned: E-Learning Company Faces $50,000 Spam Fine