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Uber Criminal Complaint Raises the Stakes for Breach Response

On August 20, 2020, a criminal complaint was filed charging Joseph Sullivan, Uber’s former chief security officer, with obstruction of justice and misprision of a felony in connection with an alleged attempted cover-up of a 2016 data breach. These are serious charges for which Mr. Sullivan has the presumption of innocence.

At the time of the 2016 data breach, Uber was being investigated by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in connection with a prior data breach that occurred in 2014. According to the complaint, the hackers behind the 2016 breach stole a database containing the personal information of about 57 million Uber users and drivers. The hackers contacted Uber to inform the company of the attack and demanded payment in return for their silence. According to the complaint, Uber’s response was to attempt to recast the breach as a legitimate event under Uber’s “bug bounty” program and pay a bounty. An affidavit submitted with the complaint portrays a detailed story of deliberate steps undertaken by Mr. Sullivan to allegedly conceal the 2016 breach from the FTC, law enforcement and the public.

Contemporaneous with the filing of the complaint, the Department of Justice (DOJ) submitted a press release quoting US Attorney for the Northern District of California David L. Anderson:

“We expect good corporate citizenship. We expect prompt reporting of criminal conduct. We expect cooperation with our investigations. We will not tolerate corporate cover-ups. We will not tolerate illegal hush money payments.”

The press release also quoted Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Deputy Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair:

“Concealing information about a felony from law enforcement is a crime. While this case is an extreme example of a prolonged attempt to subvert law enforcement, we hope companies stand up and take notice. Do not help criminal hackers cover their tracks. Do not make the problem worse for your customers, and do not cover up criminal attempts to steal people’s personal data.”

Collectively, the case and statements from the DOJ are probably a unicorn based on, if the facts as alleged are true, a case involving a deliberate cover-up of a data breach in the course of an active FTC investigation. However, many of the statements from the DOJ and the specific allegations in the complaint appear to have potentially far-reaching implications (for companies, their executives and cybersecurity professionals) that breach response counsel must seriously consider in future incidents.

A common question when responding to a ransomware or other cyberattack is whether and when to inform law enforcement. The criminal complaint has the potential to make this an even more difficult decision for future cyberattack victims. Further, while the alleged conduct at issue may seem particularly egregious, the DOJ’s statements could cause a blurring of the lines between what the government may contend is illegal concealment of a security incident and activities generally thought to be legitimate security incident risk and exposure mitigation. We explore these and other key takeaways from the criminal complaint in more detail below.

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China Data Protection Enforcement Update – A Focus on Platform Content

Following the first enforcement actions by local authorities in Shantou and Chongqing for violations of the new Network Security Law that came into effect this year, authorities in China have recently shown a clear initial focus with several new cases targeting provisions of the law that require monitoring of platform content. As of the start of October 2017, enforcement actions by authorities in China have targeted platform content violations in nearly 70 percent of all actions under the new provisions of the data protection rules.

 

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China’s Network Security Law Comes into Effect: What It Means for Your Company

Today, China’s much anticipated Network Security Law comes into effect after two years of review, revisions over three drafts and a public commenting process. The law is a historical development for China’s legislative coverage of information security and data protections. It also represents one of the strictest approaches in any jurisdiction worldwide, and a continuation of a broader effort at demonstrating the government’s cyber-sovereignty goals through control and regulation of data and the internet.

Overview of the Network Security Law

Commonly referred to as the “Cybersecurity Law,” the new piece of legislation has a broad scope and covers a range of issues related to data privacy, security and cross-border transfers, including:

  • Increasing security measures and strengthening data security through a variety of specific obligations
  • Ensuring consent for collection of personal information through the principles of legality, proper justification and necessity
  • Screening equipment and products for security testing and certification
  • Ensuring real-name registration for users
  • Strengthening requirements to cooperate with government agencies during criminal investigations or to protect national security
  • Requiring personal information to be stored in China under some circumstances
  • Increasing confidentiality measures for user information
  • Setting up a complaint and reporting platform for network security

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Guidance on Ransomware Attacks under HIPAA and State Data Breach Notification Laws

On July 28, 2016, US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued guidance (guidance) under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) on what covered entities and business associates can do to prevent and recover from ransomware attacks. Ransomware attacks can also trigger concerns under state data breach notification laws.

The HIPAA Security Rule requires covered entities and business associates to implement security measures. It also requires covered entities and business associates to conduct an accurate and thorough risk analysis of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity and availability of electronic protected health information (ePHI) the entities create, receive, maintain or transmit and to implement security measures sufficient to reduce those identified risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level. The HIPAA Security Rule establishes a floor for the security of ePHI, although additional and/or more stringent security measures are certainly permissible and may be required under state law. Compliance with HIPAA’s existing requirements provides covered entities and business associates with guidance on how to prevent and address breaches that compromise protected health information. The new HIPAA guidance specific to ransomware reinforces how the existing requirements can help an entity protect sensitive information.

Read the full article here.




New Data Disposal Law in Delaware Requires Action by Impacted Businesses

While the federal government continues its inaction on data security bills pending in Congress, some U.S. states have been busy at work on this issue over the summer.  A new Delaware law H.B. 295, signed into law on July 1, 2014 and effective January 1, 2015, provides for a private right of action in which a court may order up to triple damages in the event a business improperly destroys personal identifying information at the end of its life cycle.  In addition to this private right of action, the Delaware Attorney General may file suit or bring an administrative enforcement proceeding against the offending business if it is in the public interest.

Under the law, personal identifying information is defined as:

A consumer’s first name or first initial and last name in combination with any one of the following data elements that relate to the consumer, when either the name or the data elements are not encrypted:

  • his or her signature,
  • full date of birth,
  • social security number,
  • passport number, driver’s license or state identification card number,
  • insurance policy number,
  • financial services account number, bank account number,
  • credit card number, debit card number,
  • any other financial information or
  • confidential health care information including all information relating to a patient’s health care history, diagnosis condition, treatment or evaluation obtained from a health care provider who has treated the patient, which explicitly or by implication identifies a particular patient.

Interestingly, this new law exempts from its coverage:  banks and financial institutions that are merely subject to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, but the law only exempts health insurers and health care facilities if they are subject to and in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as well as credit reporting agencies if they are subject to and in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

Given how broadly the HIPAA and FCRA exemptions are drafted, we expect plaintiffs’ attorneys to argue for the private right of action and triple damages in every case where a HIPAA- or FCRA-covered entity fails to properly dispose of personal identifying information, arguing that such failure evidences noncompliance with HIPAA or FCRA, thus canceling the exemption.   Note, however, that some courts have refused to allow state law claims of improper data disposal to proceed where they were preempted by federal law.  See, e.g., Willey v. JP Morgan Chase, Case No. 09-1397, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57826 (S.D.N.Y. July 7, 2009) (dismissing individual and class claims alleging improper data disposal based on state law, finding they were pre-empted by the FCRA).

The takeaway?  Companies that collect, receive, store or transmit personal identifying information of residents of the state of Delaware (or any of the 30+ states in the U.S. that now have data disposal laws on the books) should examine their data disposal policies and practices to ensure compliance with these legal requirements.  In the event a business is alleged to have violated one of [...]

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