“Technology is a wonderful thing but it’s scary when it’s weaponized against you.”

The first sign that my wife’s identity and my own were under attack came innocently enough.

It was an e-mail alert that we get from time to time from Comcast, so innocent that I almost ignored it.  But it said our password had been changed.  When we tried to log-in to download e-mail, the system indicated the password was incorrect.

“That’s weird”, we thought.

I mean, we have two factor authentication on it so that if someone DOES try to change the password, shouldn’t they need a code?

So I called Comcast and was assured repeated that our password wasn’t changed and our account was not compromised.

They said it was a phishing exercise and the e-mails were fake too. As for the account access, they said that someone may have just tried to access it but they were unsuccessful.

Comcast easily reset the password for me and since two factor authentication wasn’t invoked, it seemed like something unusual but nothing beyond that.

The second attack happened the same way.  This time, we knew something was most definitely wrong.

The war over our identities was now on, though I didn’t realize at the time how outmatched we were in our weaponry.

We were able to regain control of the account in just a few minutes with resetting the password on my side (two can play that game, so I thought).

And then I placed another call to Comcast for help.

After an hour on the phone and a reset password and security question, I was told again that there’s nothing otherwise suspicious in my account but they’ll keep “looking”.  No other outward sign of hacking.

Still, our credit cards were quiet and we changed some more passwords just in case.  What were they after?

The hacker’s next salvo though had already been launched and was operating secretly.

Later that evening, I received a notice from UPS that night that we had a package coming from Amazon, but, well, let’s just say that we are frequent Prime users and that didn’t raise any suspicions to be getting another one from them.

But by mid-morning the next day, still yet another e-mail arrived. Again, from UPS, but this time saying that the package we were expecting would be held at the Watertown customer care center “at the customer’s request”.

(Why, you might ask, is UPS sending me e-mails? It turns out, I set up an alert with UPS to send me an a separate e-mail account anytime a package for our hours is scheduled for delivery. As it turns out, this last countermeasure helped stem the tide, though I didn’t know it at the time)

Still, when we searched our Amazon account for the package, nothing showed up.  There was a package from over the summer that never turned up and showed it was “out for delivery”. Could that be it? Or was it a gift?

As “luck” happens, I was driving past the Watertown care center by late afternoon and decided to swing by.  A big box awaited.  My curiosity was piqued – What’s In The Box?

I open it up at the UPS facility.

Not one, but TWO high-end MacBook Pros.

Wow.  Was not expecting THAT.  Or perhaps I was.

A call to the local Watertown police was met with a response of a department that has seen one too many of these — “you should just contact your hometown police”.

A call to Amazon revealed that our account had been accessed, an Amazon store card opened up, and the purchase “hidden” as if it were a “gift” to ourselves that we didn’t want spoiled before its arrival.  Amazon set up for the computers to be returned at no charge and the card wiped clean.

At least we could claim victory in stopping the shipment, right?

Well, as we were also told by police later, sometimes hackers just send something to a customer care center and don’t pick it up just to see if the hacked worked.  If it does, then the sky’s the limit on the next go around.

But still, were we done? Had we hacked the hackers by seeing this UPS alert we weren’t suppose to see?

Well, it turns out the hackers had more tricks up their sleeve.

Upon a third call to Comcast, the security representative reviewed our account still further and he found three things:

  1. The hacker set up an “e-mail forwarding” so that a copy of EVERY single e-mail received would also be sent to the hacker.  Yes, even the ones we were sending to each other about the hacker were being read too.
  2. The hacker also set up “selective call forwarding”, an option I didn’t even know existed. Apparently, you can have up to a dozen phone numbers you choose get directly forwarded to another phone number.  As it turns out, the hacker knew the numbers that Amazon and the card verification service would call on and conveniently forwarded those calls directly to his own mobile number on a burner phone.
  3. Looking at phone logs, we could actually see that the hacker had taken a call from Amazon.  A-ha.

All done, right?

Well no. I continued to scour the account on my phone and found yet another devious hack in my “options”. The hacker had set up a series of filters (which didn’t have a title, so they showed up as “”) that forwarded e-mails from Amazon and Amazon’s card carrier directly to the hacker’s e-mail.  Delete, delete, delete.

Since then, police have been contacted. The Amazon card cancelled and account locked for a few days. Package returned. Fraud alerts placed. ID protection re-upped. Passwords being changed. Sleep lost.

And replaced with a sort of paranoia about what else is lurking.

While we can claim victory in preventing the MacBook Pros from falling into criminal hands, at what cost? The damage is already done. We may have foiled the crime, but the identity is compromised and we now need to be vigilant for other account pop-ups. The victory feels empty.

We have to instead hope the hacker will lose interest, knowing that we know about the scam and have alerted police.

This feeling of hopelessness doesn’t have to be that way.

Indeed, the irony of the situation isn’t lost on me. I’m part of my firm’s Privacy and Data Security Team and routinely give others advice with how to protect themselves.

And yet, even with the steps we took, we still couldn’t stop the attack. Here is where government and businesses have a role to play in helping to protect our identities.

For example, everytime I called Comcast to complain, I had to “verify” our info; in doing so, I had to provide the last four of her social security number and our address — the very information we KNEW was already compromised.

We have to do more. Here are five small steps to start:

  1. Congress should hold hearings to hear from security professionals about the best ways stores and utilities can protect customer information.  And then work with businesses to create a common standard.  Our current system is broken.  Health care information is treated as important; our identities need to be treated with similar care.
  2. Businesses that have sensitive customer information should offer real two-factor authentication, not offer work arounds that just open up a loophole. In Comcast’s case, resetting the password allows you to bypass the two factor authentication by answering a simple “security” question.
  3. Password management is broken.  Yes, I can set up some password managers, but using multiple devices and computers makes it difficult to have consistency.  Too many of us need to use similar passwords on websites because there is no one common log-in system. A new type of authentication system might be a start (though I acknowledge it might also then create a target for hacking too — see Equifax).
  4. After a hack, the government ought to mandate easy, free tools that people can use to help clean up their own identities. If we can get a free credit report once a year, can’t the government mandate that credit agencies assist you in cleaning up your identity for free?
  5. The police are woefully understaffed to deal with an international problem.  The only means that an ordinary person can use is their local police, but even they admit that they’re still playing catch up.  More consistent training and better tools for our police can at least start to make a dent on this.

Which gets me back to the first sentence here — which was a comment a friend shared with me upon learning of the hacking.

“Technology is a wonderful thing but it’s scary when it’s weaponized against you.”

Yes, my friend. It definitely is.

lock1Last night I had the opportunity to speak to the Colonial Total Rewards Association on the topic of Data Privacy and HR.  I titled the presentation “Is Your HR Data Going Rogue” and really focused on the role that Human Resources professionals should play in ensuring that company data is secured.

For those who have been following the blog for a while, you know that I’ve spoken a bit about this before (see some posts here and here).

Lest you think, this could NEVER happen at your company, the headlines from the last few weeks show otherwise. Company after company keep reporting major  data breaches — in part due to a W-2 scam that keeps claiming victims (see here, here, here and here if you’re not convinced).

Even technology companies are not immune. My favorite blurb from the last month was the following:

On Thursday, March 16, the CEO of Defense Point Security, LLC — a Virginia company that bills itself as “the choice provider of cyber security services to the federal government” — told all employees that their W-2 tax data was handed directly to fraudsters after someone inside the company got caught in a phisher’s net.

Oops.

So if even tech companies are victims of data breaches, is there any hope for the rest of us? Well, yes. It’s not easy but there are several steps that employers can take.

  1. Learn – This is NOT simply IT’s role; rather, HR professionals should have a key role at the table in discussing a company’s data privacy culture and practice.  And the first step in that is that HR should learn the basics of data privacy.
  2. Assess – HR has access to lots of data; where is it and who has access?  Where are you “leaking” data when it comes to your employees?
  3. Develop – Develop policies and your data privacy program; and develop the teams of people that will respond in the event of a data breach
  4. Educate – Data privacy and protection ought to be part of sustained training program, just like anti-harassment training
  5. Monitor – Figure out risks and review areas; when breach happens, HR needs to be at table to discuss employee impact
  6. Inform – When (not if) if you have a data breach, inform those affected and gov’t officials and implement your data breach plan.

Once you’ve made it through, it’s time to start back at the beginning. Learn from your mistakes in a data breach and re-assess your vulnerabilities.

Data privacy and the need for companies to view it as a key part of your company’s culture should be an integral part of your employee onboarding and training.  My thanks again to CTRA for the invitation to speak to the group and the great conversation we had last night.

With news of yet another breach of personnel data of nearly 21 million Americans yesterday, I invited my colleague William Roberts, to chime in with an update on a new law in Connecticut that updates data privacy requirements in the state. Bill heads up our Privacy and Data Protection team here and works a lot with health care companies on compliance with various privacy laws.

My thanks to Bill for the update.

robertsOn June 1, 2015, the Connecticut Legislature passed S.B. 949, a comprehensive data privacy and security bill that tightens the state’s data breach response requirements and imposes new obligations on state contractors and the health insurance industry. While Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed the bill on June 30th. A copy of S.B. 949 is available here.

This post reviews the portions of the bill most pertinent to businesses operating in Connecticut or holding personal information of state residents.

Revisions to Breach Response Requirements

Current Connecticut law requires an entity that experiences a data breach to provide notice of such breach to the affected individuals and the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office “without unreasonable delay.” S.B. 949 amends this requirement by specifying that such notices must be provided no “later than [90] days after discovery of such breach, unless a shorter time is required under federal law.”

This amendment is striking in that it sets a maximum time period for notice that is much longer than the time periods set forth in other state or federal breach notification standards (e.g., the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requires notice no later than 60 days following discovery of a breach).

Recognizing this apparent leniency, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen issued a press release that clarifies his office’s enforcement approach. Specifically, Jepsen clarifies that the 90-day reporting period is the “outside limit” for notifications and that “[t]here may be circumstances under which it is unreasonable to delay notification for 90 days.”

Jepsen makes clear that his office will “continue to scrutinize breaches and to take enforcement action against companies who unreasonably delay notification — even if notification is provided less than 90 days after discovery of the breach.” Thus, entities should continue to respond to breaches in a prompt manner and provide the necessary notices as soon as practicable.

In addition, S.B. 949 requires companies experiencing a breach involving Social Security numbers to provide affected individuals with free credit monitoring services and information on how such individuals may place a credit freeze on the individual’s credit file. The free credit monitoring services must be for a period of at least one (1) year.

While this new requirement has been considered by many to be a significant change in the law, it may have limited implications in practice because the state attorney general has long expected (or even required) companies to provide such services when Social Security numbers were involved.

Notably, S.B. 949 appears to set a shorter time period for free credit monitoring than what is typically expected by the state attorney general’s office. In many instances, the attorney general has insisted that companies offer no less than two years of free credit monitoring. Addressing this apparent lowering of expectations, Jepsen announced in his office’s press release that S.B. 949 “sets a floor for the duration of the protection” and that he retains the authority “to seek more than one year’s protection — and to seek broader kinds of protection — where circumstances warrant.”

Both of the modifications to Connecticut’s breach reporting requirements are effective Oct. 1, 2015.

State Contractor Obligations

Effective July 1, 2015, S.B. 949 imposes significant new requirements for state contracts that authorize a state agency to disclose “confidential information” to a contractor.

The bill defines “confidential information” as: (1) a person’s name, date of birth or mother’s maiden name; (2) any of the following numbers: motor vehicle operator’s license, Social Security, employee identification, employer or taxpayer identification, alien registration, passport, health insurance identification, demand deposit or savings account, or credit or debit card; (3) unique biometric data such as fingerprint, voice print, retina or iris image, or other unique physical representation; (4) “personally identifiable information” and “protected health information,” as defined in federal education and patient data regulations, respectively (i.e., Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and HIPAA); and (5) any information that a state contracting agency tells the contractor is confidential. Confidential information does not include information that may be lawfully obtained from public sources or federal, state or local government records lawfully made available to the public.

This definition is very broad and contractors should be cognizant that a large number of state contracts may be subject to the bill’s new requirements.

If a state contract involves the sharing of confidential information, the contractor will be required to undertake significant efforts to protect the privacy and security of such information.

Specifically, the contract must require the contractor to, at a minimum: (1) at its own expense, protect confidential information from being breached; (2) implement and maintain a comprehensive data security program to protect the confidential information; (3) limit access to the confidential information to the contractor’s authorized employees and agents for authorized purposes as necessary to complete the contracted services or provide contracted goods; (4) maintain all confidential information obtained from the state (a) in a secure server, (b) on secure drives, (c) behind firewall protections and monitored by intrusion detection software, (d) in a manner where access is restricted to authorized employees and agents and (e) as otherwise required under state and federal law; (5) implement, maintain and update security and breach investigation procedures that are appropriate given the nature of the information disclosed and reasonably designed to protect confidential information from unauthorized access, use, modification, disclosure, manipulation or destruction; and (6) specify how the cost of any notification about, or investigation into, a breach is to be apportioned.

The bill includes numerous detailed requirements a contractor must adhere to, particularly with respect to the development of a data security program and the reporting of breaches.

Compliance may be particularly burdensome for contractors in industries without a history of data privacy regulation or for small providers with limited financial or other resources. The bill includes a waiver provision which allows the Office of Policy and Management (“OPM”) to require additional protections or alternate security assurance measures for confidential information if the facts and circumstances warrant them after considering, among other factors, the type and amount of confidential information being shared, the purpose for which the confidential information is being shared, and the types of goods or services covered by the contract.

Notably, the bill does not include the size or resources of the state contractor as factors OPM may consider when altering data security requirements.

Insurance Industry Data Security Programs

In response to the recent Anthem Inc. data breach, S.B. 949 imposes new requirements on health insurers, pharmacy benefit managers, utilization review companies and third-party administrators licensed do to business in Connecticut with respect to these entities’ maintenance of comprehensive information security programs.

Specifically, each such entity must develop and implement a written security program no later than Oct. 1, 2017. The program must address a litany of administrative, physical and technical safeguards including, among others: (1) computer and Internet user authentication protocols; (2) access control measures; (3) risk assessments; (4) sanctions for employee violation of security policies or procedures; and (5) oversight of third parties that have access to personal information.

The extent of such safeguards must be appropriate in light of the scope and type of business, the amount of resources available, the amount of data compiled or maintained and the need for security of such data. The written security program must be updated at least annually.

While extensive, many of the affected companies will already be subject to very similar requirements imposed under HIPAA and thus will likely have most, if not all, of S.B. 949’s elements already addressed in current policy. Nevertheless, insurers and others subject to this new requirement should review existing policies and procedures to determine sufficiency in light of the new requirements.

We’ve come a long way since “The Net”

With the headlines coming out seemingly daily about data breaches at companies, there’s a tendency to feel a bit overwhelmed with the problem.

And while a data breach regarding your employees is something that may not be as imminent as one involving credit cards, it still represents a major threat to your business.

This week, I have two presentations on the subject. But in case you can’t make it, here’s a sneak peek at four things you can do now before you have a data breach.

  • Establish and implement a written data breach response policy.  This policy will be more blueprint, than policy.  The best ones I’ve seen are in a spreadsheet format and identify a team of individuals who are already identified in case of a data breach, with roles and responsibilities clearly defined.  Notably too, you should also have outside IT consultants and a legal team identified as well.
  • Conduct a review of your systems and data, and understand where your confidential information resides.  You won’t know if you keep your data (particularly data regarding your employees) secure unless you figure out what you have and what protections are in place.
  • Conduct regular risk assessment for your company, your contractors & vendors and other business partners.  Don’t just stop at figuring out where your data resides, but understand where you data goes.  If data is sent outside the company, is it encrypted when it is sent? For example, how is employee benefit information transmitted?
  • Establish frequent privacy and security awareness trainings as part of an ongoing program.  Telling employees when they start about privacy policies isn’t good enough anymore. Regular training and followup is needed to ensure that your employees don’t provide an easy back door for your data to exit from.

If you’re interested in the subject, I would recommend attendance at one of the two programs I’ll be at.

On Wednesday, I’ll be at the National Retail Federation’s HR Executive Summit in Chicago speaking at “Protecting Your Digital Secret Sauce” at 10:15a along with representatives from Walgreens and McDonalds.  Moderated by Miller Canfield’s Adam Forman, the program description is as follows:

High profile credit card data breaches at several prominent retailers have recently made national headlines, impacting the retailers’ brand and shaking their customers’ confidence. Credit card data breaches, however, are only the tip of the iceberg. There are a whole host of related issues that are bubbling beneath the surface, many of which are within the direct control of your employees. This panel of industry experts will discuss these issues and identify practical steps to take should your organization data become compromised.

On Thursday, I’ll be at the joint program between Shipman & Goodwin and the Connecticut chapter of SHRM entitled “Raiders of the Data Ark: Data Privacy and Cybersecurity Summit.”  There are still a few spots open for registration. Attendance is strong for this program, please be sure to sign up today or tomorrow so we can lock in the space.

When we think about protecting customer and employee data, we often think that the biggest hazards are outside hackers.

But a recently publicized incident involving AT&T shows that the threats may also be from within. As The New York Times reported:

“[I]t serves as a cautionary tale about the types of information that employees at technology and communications companies can retrieve just by breaking the rules, no hacking required.”

What happened? According to the Times, “AT&T, the telecommunications provider, said on Monday that it had fired an employee who inappropriately gained access to customer information this year, possibly including Social Security and driver’s license numbers.”

While the breach was relatively small (1600 people affected), the company dealt with the breach by sending out letters to those affected and paying for credit monitoring services.

What else should you do in a breach? Well, next week, I’m heading up a major Data Privacy & Cybersecurity Summit where we will discuss exactly that topic — particularly as it applies to employee data. The summit is scheduled for October 16th in Cromwell.  Co-sponsored with the Connecticut chapter of SHRM, the program includes speakers from GE, ESPN and the Connecticut Attorney General’s office.  The cost is just $75 and includes breakfast, lunch and materials.  You can register here.

For more details, click here.