At the airport, in a coffee shop or hotel lobby? Think twice before logging on to that free Wi-Fi.

What’s not to love about free, public Wi-Fi?  It’s free. It’s easy. A couple of clicks and you’re connected to the world.

When you’re on the go, there will always be a need to check your email, send a document to a client, touch base with someone in the office, or review the balance in your bank account. You can take care of life’s business from almost anywhere, and public Wi-Fi makes it easy.

It’s ease of use makes it a boon to hackers, as well. While you’re taking care of business, so are they.

Earlier this week, I was interviewed by Leonard Lee of Thomson Reuters Legal Current for a 20-minute podcast titled “Dangers of Public Wi-Fi”.  We discussed some of the things that can happen when you’re using public Wi-Fi, including:

  • Spoofing. Rogue computers can spoof you, pretending to be something they’re not, and capture your data when you click on their link.
  • Capturing passwords. More sophisticated hackers can enter your device stealthily and monitor everything you do (capturing keystrokes to passwords, for example).
  • Depositing malware. Hackers can also deposit malware into your computer. This can endanger not only your own data – if you’re connected to your company’s network you’re risking the integrity of data shared by everyone back in the office.
  • Peeking the old fashioned way. And remember, in a public place it’s still possible for hackers to perform a hack the old fashioned way – by looking over your shoulder and reading your screen.

The safest way to go? Don’t use public Wi-Fi. Continue reading

LOS ANGELES—Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP (JMBM) is pleased to announce that Michael A. Gold, co-chair of JMBM’s Cybersecurity & Privacy Group and co-author of the Cybersecurity Lawyer Forum, has been nominated by the Los Angeles Business Journal as a “Leader in Law” in the area of Cybersecurity.

“From the time the Internet began to play a role in doing business, I have been helping clients protect critical data and comply with privacy laws,” said Gold. “The complexity of cybersecurity issues is ever expanding, creating challenges for businesses and interesting work for their lawyers. I am grateful that the Los Angeles Business Journal has recognized cybersecurity as an important area of legal practice, and that I have been nominated for this prestigious award.”

Gold counsels businesses with respect to data breach responses and investigations, crisis management, development of computer-based information retention systems, forensic investigations of computer systems, and computer and internet privacy matters. He also assists businesses in developing and implementing information management and governance best practices and developing policies and compliance structures for protecting personal and company information. Continue reading

The cybersecurity breaches this month of Equifax and Deloitte—both firms that tout the value of their data and security acumen—show that no company is immune to hacking.

But there is one thing that smart companies can do, both before and during a breach, and that is to develop and deploy an appropriate narrative when a security disaster strikes. That narrative needs to hew to the facts, take into account the known unknowns, and appeal not to shareholders or the press but to customers and regulators. Done right, these statements can differentiate between a recoverable data breach and a cybersecurity-related corporate disaster.

What makes this so difficult for companies and CEOs is that the right response often goes against all they’ve learned about positioning the company. Let’s dissect those impulses.

  1. Shareholder value is intact. A company sees shareholders as its most important constituency and wants to reassure them. Actually, you have no idea the impact on shareholder value, because you have no idea the full extent of the breach, how the market will receive it, and how customers and regulators will react. Incorporating this concept into any narrative is ill-advised at best.
  2. We have this under control. Company leaders do not want to exhibit weakness. However, as part of an initial statement, there is only a remote chance that the situation is under control. It takes time to learn the extent of a breach, both its breath, duration, and ultimate impact. Far better to say you are working with experts, regulators and consumer advocates to understand the extent of what may have been compromised, and that you are pushing forward diligently in this regard.
  3. We are doing all we can to mitigate the effects. Company executives often have a bias toward action. You may want to do that, but that’s impossible until you discover the scope of the data loss. Regulators are not interested in immediate solutions. They want to know that you are doing all you can to learn about the situation, not the specifics about the Band-Aids or tourniquets. They want to know your long-haul commitment.

Continue reading

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Small businesses understand that they are challenged with all the cybersecurity issues that large companies face. But often they fail to act preemptively under the false assumption that the resources of a large company are necessary to manage cyber threats.  Small businesses are often surprised to learn that effective cybersecurity strategies are within their reach and that, in many cases, small businesses can respond to threats faster and more effectively than large companies.

I recently participated as a speaker for a conference focused on the future of cybersecurity and how small businesses can protect themselves. Ariento’s Up on Cyber 2017 Conference at the UCLA James West Alumni Center was attended by numerous small business owners, and I enjoyed the informed questions posed by the audience.

You can view a video of my 45-minute presentation, the Current Landscape of Cybersecurity Law as it Relates to Small Businesses, in which I cover the following issues:

  • What’s new in data threats
  • Where do your obligations and liabilities come from
  • Privacy Policies – protection and threat
  • Risk Assessment – the first step to risk reduction
  • Cyberinsurance – what and why
  • Responding to a data breach

Like businesses of all size, small businesses are at risk of being hacked. The threat of compromising customer and employee privacy, and the possibility of losing their reputations – not to mention their businesses – are good reasons that all small businesses should act proactively to put cybersecurity programs in place.

 

Robert E. Braun is the co-chair of the Cybersecurity and Privacy Law Group at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP. Bob helps clients to develop and implement privacy and information security policies, negotiate agreements for technologies and data management services, and comply with legal and regulatory requirements. He helps clients to develop and implement data breach response plans, and he and his team respond quickly to clients’ needs when a data breach occurs. Contact Bob at RBraun@jmbm.com or +1 310.785.5331.

JMBM’s Cybersecurity and Privacy Group counsels clients in a wide variety of industries, including accounting firms, law firms, business management firms and family offices, in matters ranging from development of cybersecurity strategies, creation of data security and privacy policies, responding to data breaches and regulatory inquiries and investigations, and crisis management. The Cybersecurity and Privacy Group uses a focused intake methodology that permits clients to get a reliable sense of their cybersecurity readiness and to determine optimal, client-specific approaches to cybersecurity.

There may be much more missing than the headlines suggest.

Some 30 million people watched the Season 7 premiere of “Game of Thrones,” according to its creator, HBO. It’s one of the hottest media properties in years.

The popularity of the show, and HBO’s other properties, made HBO the perfect target for attention-hungry hackers who breached HBO’s systems this summer and made off with a script for a future episode and a reported 1.5 terabytes of other information–an astounding amount of data. By comparison, the 2014 Sony hack, which disclosed troves of embarrassing corporate emails and led to the departure of the company’s co-chair, was 200 gigabytes. The HBO breach is roughly seven times larger.

The size of the breach made us question – is this incident more than a spoiler for Game of Thrones and unreleased episodes of several other HBO shows?  Or did the hackers have something else in mind?  And it points out a sobering fact about many cybersecurity breaches: despite the best forensics, it can be hard to quantify their scope and know the true boundaries of what data has been taken or otherwise compromised.

The question was answered a few days later when the hackers demanded a multi-million dollar ransom to prevent the disclosure of more episodes of more shows and damaging emails and other information – and, to prove their point, released personal phone numbers of Game of Thrones actors, emails and scripts.  HBO and the hackers are now in negotiations, with the hackers demanding “our six-month salary in bitcoin”, claiming they earn $12 to $15 million  a year from blackmailing organizations whose networks they have breached. Continue reading

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It’s ironic: when global threats are in the news every day, their ubiquity makes them easy to ignore. Whether they be political threats, climate threats, or data security threats, we can become numb to ever-present risk. Add in the chorus of advice from the growing number of providers, and even those who want to act become paralyzed by choice and complexity.  Cybersecurity is no exception – the daily deluge of breach notices and press reports of massive attacks has made us less, not more, sensitive to the threat.

Crisis fatigue can be compounded with defeatist thinking, believing that no matter what you do, you will still be hacked and have your data compromised.  So it is no surprise that while companies know data security should be a top priority, in reality, it’s easy to focus on more urgent – but less essential – items.

Cybersecurity faces additional hurdles that make it even challenging to address.  By identifying those hurdles, however, firms may be able to overcome these barriers and move forward on the path to minimizing one of the greatest risks your company faces.

Data Security Is Expensive – But Not as Expensive as the Alternative

Implementing a cybersecure environment requires a commitment in technology, training, and adapting to the constant rate of change and upgrading processes. The extra steps needed for the simplest of tasks, such as logging in, add to the daily cost of doing business.

Gartner estimates that worldwide spending on data security this year will hit $90 billion. It’s understandable that a CEO would see that as money lost from corporate value. But these expenditures should be seen  as an investment to preserve corporate value. Breaches are much more expensive and disruptive than the budgeted, planned improvements to systems, which can be controlled and implemented over time.

Intelligent and consistent technology upgrades, combined with regular training for all employees, are, in the end, better for a company’s bottom line than crisis management and costly technology remediation after the fact. Creative corporate leaders reframe the expense question and find budget for what’s vital.

Data Security Seems Really Complicated

For most of us, data security is complicated. We aren’t IT professionals, and venturing into the cybersecurity world is a challenge. Those who suffer any amount of technophobia may assume that they don’t know it and, more dangerously, that they can’t learn it. The technology community can reinforce this fear by speaking a foreign language and using unfamiliar terminology, all of which creates another barrier for non-technical executives and managers who need to understand the issues sufficiently enough to make intelligent decisions. Non-technical company management often feel that they are at the mercy of the IT experts. Even those who master important concepts in data and cybersecurity may doubt that knowledge, as there can be a tendency on the tech side to stress just how complicated things really are, reinforcing the need for their expertise. Continue reading

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Ever since California adopted the nation’s first breach notification law in 2002, companies that have suffered a data breach have focused on whether and how to notify their customers, employees and others of the nature and extent of the breach.  California’s law has been amended multiple times, and has been followed by breach notification laws in almost every state, as well as the notification requirements under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPPA”).  As these laws developed, a tandem requirement has emerged:  the obligation to take reasonable steps to protect data, and companies are, increasingly focused on taking steps to ensure the security of their data.

Recent breaches, however, have made it clear that these efforts do not address what might be the most pressing problem facing businesses:  how to recover from a malicious attack.  As data security attacks have evolved, firms must recognize an entirely different set of risks.

In the past, most hackers have focused on obtaining financial or personal information for profit.  Thus, the most publicized data breaches – Wyndham and Target, as examples – were directed at obtaining credit card information which could be sold on the dark web.  While these incidents can be expensive, they rarely threaten the existence of a firm; indeed, most consumers are so inured to the likelihood that their credit card information may be stolen that they take a blasé attitude and assume, correctly, that their personal losses will be small, typically limited to the inconvenience of getting a new credit or debit card.  Similarly, as more and more companies recognize the likelihood of a loss and, in response, adopt breach notification policies backed by cybersecurity insurance, the impact has become incorporated into the cost of doing business.

This attitude began to change with the increased incidence of ransomware.  Rather than seek financial or personal data, ransomware exploits technical or, more often, human vulnerabilities to encrypt data and hold it hostage in return for payment of ransom.  There have been highly publicized incidents, including hospitals, hotels, law enforcement agencies and other entities, that paid ransom in return for access to their data.  While paying ransom has been almost universally criticized, many firms felt they had no choice; they did not have adequate backups, and the only possible means of continuing business was to pay a relatively modest payment.

With the recent Petya virus attacks, however, that calculus has changed.  It has become more and more apparent that this virus, while claiming to be ransomware, was actually much more destructive; researchers increasingly believe that the malware was “wiperware” with the objective of permanently destroying data, and the perpetrators of the virus had no intention of freeing the data.  The researchers analyzing Petya (sometimes called PetyaWrap, NotPetya, and ExPetr) have speculated the ransom note left behind in the attack was a hoax intended to capitalize on media interest sparked by the May Wannacry ransomware attack. Continue reading

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Middle-market companies have cultures, goals and business needs that are distinct from larger firms, and nowhere is that more true than with cybersecurity.

Fortune 500 companies and brands with household names are much more likely to recover their reputations following a data breach.  While breaches are costly in financial terms to all companies, the damage to the brand of a middle-market company may not be survivable.  Large companies can weather the storm of negative publicity and loss of reputation, but mid-markets often cannot:  60% of middle-market companies that are hacked are out of business within one year.

This presents a near-paralyzing scenario to middle-market managers – the mere spectre of a data breach presents business risks that are difficult for them to fathom.

In our work with middle-market companies, we’ve developed effective strategies to help companies respond to the risk and protect their vital digital assets.  In fact, when the process is managed well, middle-market companies can respond to cybersecurity threats more quickly and effectively than larger businesses. Continue reading

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You spent valuable time and resources crafting a cybersecurity breach action plan. You’ve assembled a multidisciplinary response team. You’ve identified who is responsible for what, and what decision-tree will go into effect. The plan has been circulated. You’ve even engaged a separate law firm that will be on call in the event of a breach. You’ve done the same with a PR firm, a private investigator and data breach hit squad.

But if the action plan stays put on a shelf, it isn’t really of much value. Smart companies run a tabletop exercise, where first responders sit at a conference table and run through what will happen in the event of a breach. But really smart companies do something more – they take their efforts out of the conference room and into the real world. Breaches involve stress, panic and urgency. It’s not the time to be opening a binder and flipping through tabs for instructions. All those with responsibility for securing the breach need to be battle tested.

Just as fire drills are mandated safety requirements, breach drills should be mandatory training for your team. These exercises bring to light the weaknesses, if any, inherent in your breach response plan. These drills take a good plan and refine it into a great plan.

The key to testing the plan is making your drill as realistic as possible. Notify responders there will be a drill, but not when it will happen. Then, perhaps on a weekend, unleash a hypothetical and set things in motion. Designate several observers to follow the drill to see how closely actions hew to the plan. Document what went right and what went wrong so adjustments can be made later. Continue reading

Web analytics concept - Multicolor versionWhile there is no nationwide cybersecurity program, the Federal Trade Commission has brought more than 50 actions claiming that the cybersecurity practices of a variety of companies in a variety of industries. While these actions have primarily been administrative and resulted in settlements, and the specifics of each order apply only to the company affected, these actions are instructive as to what the FTC expects of cybersecurity programs.  A byproduct of the FTC’s actions is a guide to companies to create better privacy and security policies and programs.  While these cases don’t necessarily identify how to run “gold-standard” programs, they identify what the FTC expects as minimum standards for efforts to protect data.

The FTC has said that most enforcement actions it has brought involve “basic, fundamental security missteps.” Many are human error, but there are also plenty that show deficiencies in cybersecurity risk assessments and programs.  This piece describes baseline guides; companies should consult qualified counsel for specifics. Engaging counsel itself on these issues is a sign to regulators that a company takes cybersecurity seriously. But doing it correctly depends on engaging top legal counsel and experienced advisors early on.

Human Factor.  No cybersecurity program is ironclad as long as human error exists and the skills of hackers evolve at the same rate as technology itself. But many cybersecurity breaches are the result of more simple mistakes. The FTC requires “reasonable” efforts, not complete security.

It’s also important to note that cybersecurity solutions are not one-size-fits-all, even for companies within the same industry. Prevention programs depend on the unique circumstances and business practices of each company. Regardless of company or industry, however, a demonstrated commitment to security is required, both to satisfy the government and to protect valuable corporate and customer assets.  Continue reading