PRIVACY + SECURITY BLOG

News, Developments, and Insights

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A Terrifying New Dimension of Ransomware

Ransomware

Ransomware has long been a scourge. Since at least 2012, ransomware has grown dramatically. Ransoms have increased — the average ransom payout is now more than $40,000. Organizations most hit are public sector, software services, professional services, and healthcare.  Healthcare, in particular, is a soft target because of the need to get systems back and running quickly. According to a McAfee report, ransomware attacks more than doubled in 2019.  An FBI warning from fall 2019 didn’t indicate an increase in the number of attacks but did show an increase in the targeting and severity of the attacks: “Ransomware attacks are becoming more targeted, sophisticated, and costly, even as the overall frequency of attacks remains consistent. Since early 2018, the incidence of broad, indiscriminant ransomware campaigns has sharply declined, but the losses from ransomware attacks have increased significantly, according to complaints received by IC3 and FBI case information.”

For a long time, a debate has raged about whether to pay the ransom.  Some argue that the ransom should never be paid, but organizations facing the loss of their data might not have much of a choice. But if organizations back up their data, then they can they can avoid paying the ransoms and restore their data. But now there’s a new development in ransomware that is particularly troubling and that makes paying the ransoms a necessity even when data is backed up.  Ransomware groups are now threatening to release an organization’s data online if the ransom isn’t paid.

Ransomware Threaten to Disclose DataThis year, five law firms were hit with Maze Ransomware. Instead of just encrypting the data, the ransomware group exfiltrated it first and then posted a small amount of it online. The group threatened to post the remainder of the data online unless the ransom was paid. According to one article: “Recent reports have shown the hacking group behind Maze ransomware has been steadily posting the data of its victims online after the organizations fail to pay the ransom demand. A compiled list of victims shows the data of several healthcare organizations are included in those postings, despite a lack of public reporting of those incidents.”

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Top 10 Privacy Law Developments of the Decade 2010-2019

Top 10 Privacy Law Developments of the Decade 2010-2019 02

It is an understatement to say that a lot has happened in privacy law during the past decade. Here is my list of the most notable developments.

NOTE: I am giving a particular emphasis to what I find to be notable from a United States perspective.  What is notable privacy law depends upon where one is situated.  For example, if one is from a small country, that country’s developments are quite notable even if not well-known on a worldwide stage.

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Cartoon on Data Breach

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This cartoon is about evolution of data breaches, which began to grab headlines back in 2005, thanks in large part to California’s data breach notification law — the first of such laws.  Since that time, every state has passed breach notification laws, and there are breach notification laws sprouting up around the world.  Every day, we hear of more and more data breaches . . . and they are getting larger and larger.

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Cartoon: Data Breach Notification

Cartoon Data Beach Notification - TeachPrivacy Security Awareness Training 02 small

This cartoon is about data breach notification.  All 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico now have data breach notification laws, and breach notification laws are spreading around the globe.  And, as is often said in data security, it’s not whether a breach will happen, but when . . .

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Increasing State HIPAA Enforcement: Highlights from 2018

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There have been quite a number of state HIPAA enforcement cases this year, and one expert points out a trend toward increasing state enforcement of HIPAA.

An article in Data Breach Today discusses a number of state HIPAA enforcement cases.  Here are some of the ones discussed:

Massachusetts — $75,000 settlement with McLean Hospital for a data breach involving 1,500 victims based on an employee who routinely took home unencrypted backup tapes with PHI.  From the state press release:

The AG’s complaint alleges that McLean, a psychiatric hospital in Belmont, allowed an employee to regularly take home eight unencrypted back-up tapes containing clinical and demographic information from the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center that the hospital possessed. The tapes contained personal information such as names, social security numbers, diagnoses and family histories. When the employee was terminated from her position at McLean in May 2015, she only returned four of the tapes, and the hospital was unable to recover the others.

New Jersey — $100,000 settlement with EmblemHealth for a 2016 breach involving 81,000 victims.  Details from the state’s press release:

The incident at issue took place on October 3, 2016 when EmblemHealth’s vendor sent a paper copy of EmblemHealth’s Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan’s Evidence of Coverage to 81,122 of its customers, including 6,443 who live in New Jersey.

The label affixed to the mailing improperly included each customer’s HICN, which incorporates the nine digits of the customer’s Social Security number, as well as an alphabetic or alphanumeric beneficiary identification code. (The number shown was identified as the “Package ID#” on the mailing label and did not include any separation between the digits.)

During its investigation, the Division found that following the departure of the EmblemHealth employee who typically prepared the Evidence of Coverage mailings, the task was assigned to a team manager of EmblemHealth’s Medicare Products Group, who received minimal training specific to the task and worked unsupervised. Before forwarding the data file to the print vendor, this team manager failed to remove the patient HICNs from the electronic data file.

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