A while ago, I wrote about a case involving a member of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team staff who improperly accessed a database of the Houston Astros. There is now an epilogue to report in the case. The individual who engaged in the illegal access — a scouting director named Chris Correa — was fired by the Cardinals, imprisoned for 46 months, and banned permanently from baseball. The Cardinals were fined $2 million by Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, and they must forfeit their first two picks in the draft to the Houston Astros.
According to an article about the incident in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “As outlined in court documents, the U.S. attorney illustrated how Correa hacked Houston’s internal database, ‘Ground Control,’ 48 times during a 2½-year period. He viewed scouting reports, private medical reviews and other proprietary information. The government argued that Correa may have sought to determine if Houston borrowed the Cardinals’ data or approach, but the information he accessed was ‘keenly focused on information that coincided with the work he was doing for the Cardinals.'”
As I wrote in my piece about the case, there are several lessons to be learned. One lesson is that it is a myth that hacking and computer crime must be hi-tech. Here, Correa’s hacking was nothing sophisticated — he just used another person’s password. The person had previously worked for the Cardinals, and when he went to the Astros, he kept using the same password. In my piece, I discussed other lessons from this incident, such as the importance of teaching people good password practices as well as teaching people that just because they have access to information doesn’t make it legal to view the information. The Cardinals organization appears to have learned from the incident, as the “employee manual has been updated to illustrate what is illegal activity online,” and the organization is using two-factor authentication to protect its own sensitive data. The article doesn’t say whether the Astros also stepped up their security awareness training by teaching employees not to reuse their old passwords from another team.
People often fail to appreciate the seriousness of improper access to data. They think that just because they have another person’s password, they can use it to snoop into their accounts. This is a serious violation of law. People also wrongly think that if they have access generally to information maintained by their employer that they can look at it even if it isn’t relevant to their job. When an employer has indicated not to look at such information, accessing it can also be a violation of a federal law called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). HIPAA also prohibits accessing information that people don’t need to see to do their jobs.
Here are the lessons I mentioned in my piece:
1. Computer crime is often not high-tech.
2. It pays to think about security for more than 1 second.
3. Just because you have access doesn’t mean that you can access.
4. It is easy to be a “hacker” because the CFAA is very broad.
5. People need basic literacy in privacy and security.
Check it out for more details.
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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.
Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz of the Privacy + Security Forum (Oct. 4-7, 2017 in Washington, DC), an annual event that aims to bridge the silos between privacy and security.
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