Corporate Cybersecurity Mindfulness

From a cybersecurity and data protection perspective, traveling safely on business or pleasure is not an easy task.  But if you are mindful of what you do, and where you do it, you and your information can travel more securely.

Here are ten practical cybersecurity and data protection tips to keep in mind:

  1. Devices that you will be working on should be encrypted and up to date with security patches.  Even if your device is compromised (and this can happen any number of ways), the data stolen is unintelligible to anyone without the decryption key.
  2. While working on a plane, train or automobile, at the terminal or any other public venue using your laptop, use a privacy screen so the nosy traveler next to you, or walking down the center aisle, does not see your screen or your work.
  3. Consider traveling with your own cellphone charger or power bank.  The charging towers in some airports and terminals (particularly outside the US) have been found to have been tampered with so that when you plug in your device to charge, you are unwittingly sharing your data through malware installed in the charging tower!
  4. If you need to use the hotel or other third party computer to print out your boarding pass, (i) remember to log off the computer when you are done, (ii) do not ask to be remembered, and (iii) be mindful of who may be around you as you enter your credentials.
  5. If you are working at a hotel or third party location, do not assume that the Wi-Fi network you log into is the actual hotel network.  Hackers can easily spoof hotel Wi-Fi addresses to trick you into using their network – all the while, capturing your activities as you unsuspectingly work or shop online.  Best practice is to use your own hotspot.
  6. Confirm whether your company can remotely wipe your device – whether it is a laptop, phone or otherwise.  Then, if the device goes missing or is stolen, sensitive data can be wiped remotely. This obviously assumes that you have either memorized, or traveled with a hardcopy of, your office’s contact numbers to report lost devices as you will no longer have access to the stolen or misplaced device.
  7. Remember that devices used to print documents store images of those documents.  As such, before you have your office fax you documents or email information to a third party’s computer while you are traveling, be mindful that the third party printer or fax machine is retaining your data long after you are gone.  Better practice would be to read the document on your device or have your office overnight the materials, where possible.
  8. While traveling, if you are working on a printed, sensitive document (cover page reads, the “Merger of ABC into 123”), consider first printing a sanitized cover page, or replacing parties’ names with numbers in the document, so that your paper version does not reveal sensitive information to a third party.
  9. Do not check your bag with devices inside – whether as checked luggage, at the hotel or at the courtesy club for your airline.  You cannot assume that persons holding your items and/or having access to the holding area could not, or would not, access or steal your devices.
  10. Train your team to know that nothing is so critical that it cannot be confirmed by a phone call when you are traveling. There is not a wire transfer that must be made and there is not data that must be transmitted just as you are boarding a plane without first verifying with you by telephone.

Enjoy the trip and be smart so that someone else does not take you or your data for a ride.

On November 21, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the highest ranking state court in Pennsylvania, ruled that an employer had a common law duty to exercise reasonable care to protect employees’ personal data where, as a condition to employment, the employer (i) required employees to provide sensitive data, (ii) the employer chose to store such data, and (iii) the collection and storage of that information by the employer could foreseeably expose the employees to “unreasonable risk of harm”. Dittman v. UPMC, No. 43 WAP 2017, 2018 WL 6072199 (Pa. Nov. 21, 2018).

In a class action, the Court accepted the employees’ argument that this duty included the obligation to take “reasonable measures to protect” the data from “foreseeable risk that [hackers] would attempt to access and [comprise and/or steal] that information.” The court further accepted the employees’ position that the intervening criminal action by the hackers did “not eviscerate the duty …to take reasonable anticipatory measures against foreseeable criminal conduct…”

Note that the Court stopped short of defining what “reasonable” care would have been in this case, but the Court for purposes of this ruling accepted the employees’ statement that the employer failed to encrypt the data at issue, did not have appropriate firewalls or other “reasonable” measures.

It is critical for employers in any jurisdiction to take note of this ruling. Pennsylvania, like the majority of states in the US, does not currently have a statute requiring companies to affirmatively protect sensitive information. However, the Court here found that this duty exists in common law.

Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that the next retailer hit with a major credit card breach will be subject to similar claims and have potential liability where, customers, if paying by credit card, must provide personal payment information to the retailer, unless that retailer can prove it adopted “reasonable” measures to guard against the “foreseeable” risk that such data may be subject to compromise.

In light of the Pennsylvania court’s ruling and two recent decisions in the U.K. and North Carolina, companies are strongly urged to take action now – if they have not already – to undertake “reasonable” measures to (i) identify the sensitive data they collect and store, (ii) protect that data from foreseeable compromise – considering the type of data stored, and the company’s size and resources, (iii) be vigilant in monitoring its systems to detect compromises quickly, and (iv) have a written response plan for when, not if, an attack occurs.

And for those resisting cyber insurance and crime coverage, you may wish to reconsider in light of these rulings.

One of the most common misconceptions surrounding cybersecurity and data protection measures is that they are too expensive to deploy and maintain – so much so that they become prohibitive for small and middle market businesses. Another one I hear often is that the implementation process can seem daunting for business owners who may be unsure about where exactly to begin.

While top-of-the-line cybersecurity programs and managed IT service packages can certainly be expensive and complex to deploy, there are several, low or no cost measures that are worth considering. An ounce of prevention, even on a limited budget, can go a long way.

1. Password protocols and two factor authentication

  • Passwords should be (at least) 10 characters
  • Changed quarterly
  • Kept in a secure location
  • Change default passwords
  • Two factor authentication can be established with minimal (or no) cost

2. Patch early, patch often: All computers and other devices should be updated regularly

3. Bank online through one, isolated computer that is not used for any other purpose, and which is not connected to the business’ local area network

4. Train your personnel on cyber mindfulness

  • More than one-third of ransomware attacks are launched via a phishing email
  • Verify from a known source – pick up the telephone!
  • If you see something, say something…

5. Least rights – for small organizations, everyone wears multiple hats… but for sensitive information, minimize who has access to the crown jewels

6. Back up your data

7. Encrypt your data

8. Secure your physical environment

9. Due diligence: read your contracts, your privacy policies and understand your legal obligations

10. Have a plan!

  • The day you discover you have had an incident is not the day to figure out “now what”?
  • PTA calling tree
  • Do NOT store the plan on the computer!

If you’d like to keep these tips at hand, they are available for download here. Be smart and be safe!

Cybersecurity is a hot button for all businesses these days. However, in the flurry of new privacy regulations and the focus on protection of consumer data, many businesses are not paying enough attention to how they could – and should – be using cybersecurity protocols to protect valuable trade secrets.

Trade secret protections apply broadly to business, financial and technical information, so long as: (1) the information is not generally known or ascertainable outside the owner’s organization and control; (2) the owner derives independent economic value or business advantage from the information not being known; and (3) the owner makes reasonable efforts to preserve its secrecy.  The unauthorized disclosure of trade secrets can lead to loss of strategic advantage over competitors and harm to your company’s finances and reputation. Failing to adequately protect trade secrets could also result in losing a misappropriation case against a bad actor.

Trade secret rights are secured and maintained solely by “reasonable efforts” to preserve their secrecy, which must be both internal (i.e., with employees) and external (i.e. with third party vendors).  While appropriate steps to protect trade secrets include offline actions like using non-disclosure agreements or physically locking confidential information away, courts are also now considering the adequacy of cybersecurity measures when they analyze reasonable efforts.

So, in the trade secret world, what is a reasonable “cyber” effort?  Like cybersecurity technology, case law on this issue is continuously evolving.  However, if you possess any trade secret information that is stored or communicated electronically, we recommend, at a minimum, the following:

  1. Ensure you have appropriate access protections in place. Trade secret information should be password protected and stored on a secure server.  Review your firewalls, encryption procedures, anti-virus software and the like.  Stay current with software patches and consider encryption for data at rest as well as for data in motion.  Access credentials should require multi-factor authentication.
  2. Limit the people who have access to your electronic information (think “least rights” access). Consider limiting electronic access to those specific employees or agents who actually need the information.  The more people who have access to trade secrets (and the ability to share it with just the click of a mouse), the higher your risk of breach or misappropriation.
  3. Train your employees and agents on appropriate use of your electronic systems. For example, remind them not share their passwords with anyone (even co-workers) and educate them on using company devices (like laptops and smartphones) correctly when they are offsite.  Consider how your employees connect to your system when working remotely (i.e. require them to only use password protected Wi-Fi networks, and not public Wi-Fi).  Think about limiting or prohibiting use of USB ports or other portable drives on company computers.  Teach your employees how to recognize phishing attempts.
  4. If you allow employees to access your systems from personal devices, consider an appropriate “BYOD” (bring your own device) policy and technology to secure the work environment on those devices.
  5. Restrict departing employees’ access to electronically stored information. Following termination, disable access to IT systems, change passwords, and make sure company-owned devices are returned.
  6. Ensure that you are monitoring and improving your cybersecurity efforts periodically. Consult experts about the latest developments in technology.  Conduct regular training about appropriate use of electronic systems and advise your employees of the risks of failure to follow protocol.
  7. Revisit confidentiality agreements with third parties and consider whether they reflect cybersecurity protocols.

Once your “crown jewels” are exposed, you cannot “recapture” them.  Be smart, be secure and be prepared.

One of my husband’s goodhearted employees nearly fell victim to a scam that has been rampant throughout the country. The employee received an email from a senior staff member (or so it seemed) asking if he was in the office. It was early on a Friday morning, before many people had arrived. The employee, never wanting to disappoint, responded yes. The alleged senior staff member then asked the employee for help – asking if he could go to a nearby drug store, purchase several gift cards and then send him the redemption codes. The employee got as far as purchasing $500 worth of gift cards before he took a moment to think about what he was doing. Just prior to sending the codes, he picked up the phone to confirm with the senior staff member…

While the employee ultimately realized he might be the subject of a scam, too many people take action without first verifying. By our nature, people are helpful. We hold the door for others and offer to send money to someone in need. Scammers are all too happy to take advantage of our good nature. Sadly, in this day and age, we need to take that extra minute or two (or three) to pick up the phone and verify. Being helpful is wonderful – but being smart is self-preservation.

And, for employers, this type of scam is best combated by proper and regular cyber training for your personnel. More than half of reported breaches (and some in the headlines), begin with employees responding to this type of phishing email, a spoofed account or a suspect link. Be smart and be secure.

As the target of a corporate cyber breach, are you a victim – along with your customers and personnel – or are you a “willing” accomplice to the crime?

This week, a U.K. bank was fined in excess of $21 million dollars for failing to protect its systems and customers against a “foreseeable” cyber-attack that occurred in 2016.

The bad actors exploited deficiencies in the design of the bank’s debit cards. In the year preceding the attack, Visa, Inc. had issued a warning to lenders, including this bank, about this weakness. As such, the regulator found that the bank was on notice of the potential for the attack, and nevertheless failed to take action to prevent its occurrence.

Those of you based in the U.S. reading this post may say, “well that is the U.K.”…

However, earlier this year, a Federal District Court in North Carolina found that a U.S.-based company that failed to train its personnel about a “known” phishing scam had acted “intentionally” when one of its (untrained) employees released the company’s employees’ W-2s in response to such a phish.  In this case, the IRS had issued warnings in prior years about this type of scam.  However, the U.S. company did not train its personnel to be aware of such an attack, nor did they have protocols in place to guide personnel in such instances.  In finding that the company acted “intentionally,” the court ruled that the company, in effect, willfully exposed the social security numbers of its personnel.  Under North Carolina law, having been found to have acted intentionally, the company was subject to treble damages.

Given these rulings, and with more and more states adopting proactive legislation requiring businesses to have written policies, procedures and protocols in place to prevent, detect and mitigate cyber-attacks, companies may not be able to argue that they were “innocent” victims, too.

Having written policies and procedures, supporting technology and educated personnel will go a long way toward protecting the company, its customers and its personnel;  and when (not if) an attack occurs, the company will be prepared to respond effectively.

Many businesses and individuals dispose of aging equipment, laptops, desktops, servers and more by monetizing those items. Disposal may be by sale at auction or donation to charity. Some companies now lease equipment, and turn over such items at lease end. However, many businesses and individuals forget – or do not realize – that their equipment used to process data store the data. This could include such items as computers, fax machines, photocopiers, cellphones or other similar devices. When you return, sell or donate that equipment, you may be unwittingly causing a data breach.

NCIX, a recently failed Canadian company, did just that. The company, strapped for cash, sold off servers without first wiping the data. The devices in question stored data in plain text and contained decades of customer information, including names, addresses and payment information.

Whether you are returning leased equipment or selling or donating old items, and even if the data is encrypted, always have the data wiped from the device. For leased equipment, do not assume the leasing company will do this for you absent an express contractual undertaking to do so.

The American Bar Association’s recent cybersecurity webinar reminded us all that the largest source of cyber loss is still people. And for businesses, it is their employees who continue to click on suspicious links and respond to phishing and other scams.

If you think this does not apply to you or your business, think back to the recent Federal District Court ruling in which the court found the defendant intentionally negligent due to a failure to train its employees regarding a known scam that sought to dupe key personnel into releasing employees’ W-2s.

While annual training is certainly a step in the right direction, the fact is that the “bad guys” do not wait 365 days to launch their next scam. As such, for businesses across the board, continuous cybersecurity training is critical and warrants more than a “one and done” approach. Between formal training programs, interim tips and reminders are crucial in keeping personnel vigilant.

As with any initiative, corporate commitment to cyber-mindfulness must begin at the top and if the C-suite is not engaged, management and staff will follow suit.

Our instinct is to assume that most things are real or legitimate.

A manager or client requests reports, our “worker-bee” mentality kicks in and we deliver the reports without question. Hackers count on us to react without first verifying whether the message – let alone the demand – is what it appears to be.

The New Jersey Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Cell (“NJCCIC”) reported today that “Emotet” malware campaigns are doing just this. According to the NJCCIC, the suspect emails “reference a nondescript invoice or overdue payment in the subject and body, and contain a URL link or attachment that leads to a Microsoft Word document hosted on a remote server.” If you open the document, Emotet then installs itself onto your system. The emails may appear to come from someone within your company or another trusted source. NJCCIC further advises that this malware is detected by current antivirus products less than 50% of the time.

The message is clear: if you are not expecting an invoice, or happen to receive another odd request, pick up the phone and call your known contact to verify prior to clicking on a link or providing information.

Be polite, be helpful – but verify first!