Apache Log4j Vulnerability in Java Applications May Pose Risk to Confidential Company and Personal Information

By: Kathie McDonald-McClure

On December 11, 2021, the United States Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), issued a Statement regarding what it called a “critical vulnerability affecting products containing the log4j software library”.  This Statement emphasizes that end users are reliant on their vendors to inform them about the vulnerabilities and to develop patches to protect against the vulnerabilities.   Separately, CISA established a webpage for Apache Log4j Vulnerability Guidance that CISA is continually updating to impart further guidance and vendor information as they become available.  End users should be on the lookout for critical patches from their vendors.

According to the CISA Guidance, the Log4j vulnerability is being widely exploited by a growing set of malicious actors to steal information, launch ransomware attacks, or conduct other malicious activity such as taking over a company server to mine cryptocurrency.  At least 10 major technology vendors have issued statements that one or more of their products have been affected by the Log4j vulnerability: Cisco, IBM, VMware, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Fortinet, Broadcom, ConnectWise, HCL Connections, N-Able, and Okta.[1] On December 15, 2021, the Microsoft 365 Defender Threat Intelligence Team reported that a new family of ransomware, called Khonsari, is being deployed via the Log4j vulnerability on non-Microsoft hosted servers.

Continue reading

KRONOS Payroll Ransomware Attack Implicates Potential Data Breach Notification Obligations

By: Kathie McDonald-McClure

UKG, Inc., a company that provides payroll support services known as KRONOS for many U.S. companies, began notifying its customers on December 12, 2021, that the KRONOS Private Cloud (KPC) had been attacked by ransomware.  (See UKG Kronos Private Cloud Status Updates.) The KPC products include Workforce Central, TeleStaff, Healthcare Extensions and Banking Scheduling Solutions. UKG reports that the KPC solutions may be unavailable for “several weeks.”  Affected companies are diligently working to find alternative solutions to process their payrolls in the interim. UKG has created a KPC Incident Resource Hub to assist customers impacted by the KPC disruption in services.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) reported that the ransomware attack has impacted many hospitals and health systems that rely on KRONOS for timekeeping, scheduling and payroll.  John Riggi, AHA’s Senior Advisor for Cybersecurity and Risk, said, “A lack of the availability of those services could be quite disruptive for health care providers, many of whom are experiencing surges of COVID-19 and flu patients. … This attack once again highlights the need for robust third-party risk management programs that identify mission-critical dependencies and downtime preparedness. … [W]e urge all third-party providers that serve the health care community to examine their cyber readiness, response and resiliency capabilities.” 

In addition to the immediate payroll issues, if the ransomware attack compromises employee personal information, then it may trigger a data breach notification for these employers under state breach notification laws. 

Continue reading

FTC Warns That Health Apps Must Notify Consumers of Data Breaches

By: Margaret Young Levi

On September 15, 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a Policy Statement cautioning that health apps and connected devices that collect or use consumers’ health information must comply with the Health Breach Notification Rule and notify consumers when their health data is breached.

The Health Breach Notification Rule (codified at 16 C.F.R. § 318) protects individually identifiable health information created or received by vendors of personal health records. The Rule requires vendors of personal health records to notify U.S. consumers, the FTC, and sometimes the media when there has been a breach of security of unsecured identifiable health information. Persons that fail to comply with the Rule may be subject to monetary penalties of up to $43,792 per violation, per day.

The Health Breach Notification Rule became effective in 2009, but the FTC has not enforced it to date. However, because health care applications continue to proliferate and to collect increasingly personal and sensitive health information, the FTC issued this Policy Statement to place health apps on notice that the Rule will be enforced going forward and to clarify that they are considered to be “vendors of personal health records” covered under the Rule. 

The FTC explains that the developer of a health app or connected device is considered a “vendor of personal health records” under the Rule if it is capable of drawing information from multiple sources, such as a combination of direct inputting by a consumer, syncing with a consumer’s fitness tracker, or even interfacing with the phone calendar. The Rule does not apply to vendors of personal health records who are already covered by HIPAA. 

In addition, the FTC reminds vendors of personal health records that a “breach of security” is not limited to cyberattacks by third parties, but includes any acquisition of identifiable health information of an individual in a personal health record without the individual’s authorization.  The FTC states that “[i]ncidents of unauthorized access, including sharing of covered information without an individual’s authorization, triggers notification obligations under the Rule.” 

If a breach occurs, then health apps should examine state data breach notification laws to determine if they apply as well. 

A Supreme Development in Employer Computer Protection

By: Courtney Samfordcontributing author Blake Sims, Wyatt Summer Associate

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pexels-mikhail-nilov-6930431-1024x617.jpg

Employers commonly supply computer and work devices to employees and state that the electronics may only be used for business related purposes, and employers have always had the ability to discipline employees who violate computer use policies through improper use. In some Federal Court of Appeals Circuits, employers may have been able to rely on threats of criminal and civil liabilities under 18 U.S.C. § 1030 to further deter improper use. On June 3, 2021, however, an evenly split conservative-liberal majority of the Supreme Court reversed the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Van Buren v. United States, holding that an individual only violates the Section 1030 of Computer Fraud and Abuse Act “when he accesses a computer with authorization but then obtains information located in particular areas of the computer—such as files, folders, or databases—that are off limits to him.” Van Buren v. United States, No. 19-783 (Sup. Ct. June 3, 2021).

Continue reading

HITECH Act Amendment: Using “Recognized Security Practices” May Lead to More Favorable HHS Review and Reduced Fines After Data Breach

by Margaret Young Levi and Kathie McDonald-McClure

Congress amended the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act) on January 5, 2021.  This Amendment requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to favorably consider whether covered entities and business associates have implemented specific security measures when making decisions regarding penalties and audits under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). 

Specifically, the Amendment mandates HHS to “consider whether the covered entity or business associate has adequately demonstrated that it had, for not less than the previous 12 months, recognized security practices in place” when HHS is making decisions to (1) decrease fines, (2) decrease the length and extent of an audit or terminate an audit, and (3) mitigate other remedies with respect to resolving potential violations of the HIPAA Security Rule. 

Continue reading