Thursday, July 28, 2016

HHS Office of Civil Rights and $15 Million in HIPAA Settlement Payments in 2016

HHS Office of Civil Rights and $15 Million in HIPAA Settlement Payments in 2016

For years, many questioned whether the HIPAA privacy and security rules would be enforced. The agency responsible for enforcement, Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR), promised it would enforce the rules, but just after a period “soft” enforcement and compliance assistance. That period appears to be ending. During the first seven months of 2016, OCR has announced nearly $15,000,000 in settlement payments to the agency relating to a wide range of compliance failures alleged against covered entities and business associates. At the same time, OCR is conducting audits of covered entities around the country, and plans similar audits of business associates later this year. If you have been waiting to tackle HIPAA compliance, it is probably a good time to get it done.

Below is a summary of the circumstances that led to some of the settlements and civil monetary penalties:
  • Stolen laptop, vulnerable wireless access. Following notification to OCR of a breach involving a stolen laptop (not an uncommon occurrence!), OCR investigated and reported discovering that electronic protected health information (ePHI) on the covered entity’s network drive was vulnerable to unauthorized access via its wireless network – users could access 67,000 files after entering a generic username and password. OCR also cited among other things failures to implement policies and procedures to prevent, detect, contain, and correct security violations, to implement certain physical safeguards. Settlement $2.75M
  • Vulnerabilities identified must be timely addressed. In another case, a covered entity had conducted a number of risk analyses since 2003, but the OCR claimed these analyses did not cover all ePHI at the entity. OCR also reported that the covered entity did not act timely to implement measures to address documented risks and vulnerabilities, nor did it implement a mechanism to encrypt and decrypt ePHI or an equivalent alternative measure, despite having identified this lack of encryption as a risk. Settlement $2.7M.
  • Not-for-profits serving underserved communities not immune. A data breach affecting just over 400 persons caused by the theft of a company-issued iPhone triggered an OCR investigation. The iPhone was unencrypted and was not password protected, and contained extensive ePHI including SSNs, medical diagnosis, and names of family members and legal guardians. According to OCR, among other things, the covered entity had no policies addressing the removal of mobile devices containing PHI from its facility or what to do in the event of a security incident. In its public announcement, OCR acknowledged that the $650,000 settlement was afterconsidering that the covered entity provides unique and much-needed services to elderly, developmentally disabled individuals, young adults aging out of foster care, and individuals living with HIV/AIDS.
  • No business associate agreement. When a covered entity’s business associate experienced a breach affecting over 17,000 patients, OCR again investigated. It claimed no business associate agreement was in place, leaving PHI without safeguards and vulnerable to misuse or improper disclosure. Settlement $750,000.
  • Civil monetary penalties against home care provider. In only the second time OCR has sought civil penalties under HIPAA, a judge awarded $239,800 in penalties due to privacy and security compliance failures. In this case, a patient complaint led to an OCR investigation – the patient complained that an employee of the covered entity left PHI in places where an unauthorized persons had access and in some cases abandoned the information altogether. Other compliance issues included covered entity’s maintaining inadequate policies and procedures to safeguard PHI taken offsite, and storing PHI in employee vehicles for extended periods of time.
It is true that these are only a handful of cases with large settlement amounts. But the agency does seem to be sending a message – that is, it wants to see compliance and it is not afraid to seek significant settlement amounts from covered entities or business associates, large or small. In some cases, relatively simple steps such as making sure to have business associate agreements in place, can help avoid these kinds of enforcement actions.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Incidents of Ransomware on the Rise

Incidents of Ransomware on the Rise: Protect Yourself and Your Organization

Hospitals, school districts, state and local governments, law enforcement agencies, small businesses, large businesses—these are just some of the entities impacted recently by ransomware, an insidious type of malware that encrypts, or locks, valuable digital files and demands a ransom to release them.

The inability to access the important data these kinds of organizations keep can be catastrophic in terms of the loss of sensitive or proprietary information, the disruption to regular operations, financial losses incurred to restore systems and files, and the potential harm to an organization’s reputation.

And, of course, home computers are just as susceptible to ransomware, and the loss of access to personal and often irreplaceable items—including family photos, videos, and other data—can be devastating for individuals as well.

Ransomware has been around for a few years, but during 2015, law enforcement saw an increase in these types of cyber attacks, particularly against organizations because the payoffs are higher. And if the first three months of this year are any indication, the number of ransomware incidents—and the ensuing damage they cause—will grow even more in 2016 if individuals and organizations don’t prepare for these attacks in advance.

In a ransomware attack, victims—upon seeing an e-mail addressed to them—will open it and may click on an attachment that appears legitimate, like an invoice or an electronic fax, but which actually contains the malicious ransomware code. Or the e-mail might contain a legitimate-looking URL, but when a victim clicks on it, they are directed to a website that infects their computer with malicious software.

One the infection is present, the malware begins encrypting files and folders on local drives, any attached drives, backup drives, and potentially other computers on the same network that the victim computer is attached to. Users and organizations are generally not aware they have been infected until they can no longer access their data or until they begin to see computer messages advising them of the attack and demands for a ransom payment in exchange for a decryption key. These messages include instructions on how to pay the ransom, usually with bitcoins because of the anonymity this virtual currency provides.

Ransomware attacks are not only proliferating, they’re becoming more sophisticated. Several years ago, ransomware was normally delivered through spam e-mails, but because e-mail systems got better at filtering out spam, cyber criminals turned to spear phishing e-mails targeting specific individuals.

And in newly identified instances of ransomware, some cyber criminals aren’t using e-mails at all. According to FBI Cyber Division Assistant Director James Trainor, “These criminals have evolved over time and now bypass the need for an individual to click on a link. They do this by seeding legitimate websites with malicious code, taking advantage of unpatched software on end-user computers.”

The FBI doesn’t support paying a ransom in response to a ransomware attack. Said Trainor, “Paying a ransom doesn’t guarantee an organization that it will get its data back—we’ve seen cases where organizations never got a decryption key after having paid the ransom. Paying a ransom not only emboldens current cyber criminals to target more organizations, it also offers an incentive for other criminals to get involved in this type of illegal activity. And finally, by paying a ransom, an organization might inadvertently be funding other illicit activity associated with criminals.”

So what does the FBI recommend? As ransomware techniques and malware continue to evolve—and because it’s difficult to detect a ransomware compromise before it’s too late—organizations in particular should focus on two main areas:
  • Prevention efforts—both in both in terms of awareness training for employees and robust technical prevention controls; and
  • The creation of a solid business continuity plan in the event of a ransomware attack. (See sidebar for more information.) 
“There’s no one method or tool that will completely protect you or your organization from a ransomware attack,” said Trainor. “But contingency and remediation planning is crucial to business recovery and continuity—and these plans should be tested regularly.” In the meantime, according to Trainor, the FBI will continue working with its local, federal, international, and private sector partners to combat ransomware and other cyber threats.
If you think you or your organization have been the victim of ransomware, contact your local FBI field office and report the incident to the Bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Your Smart Watch Can Steal Your ATM PIN

Mobile systems and cyber security expert Yan Wang doesn’t wear a smart watch.

“It knows too much,” says Wang, an assistant professor of computer science at Binghamton University in Upstate New York. “If you are using a smart watch, you need to be cautious.”

He would know. Wearable devices can give away your PIN number, according to research he and colleagues presented in June at the 11th annual Association for Computing Machinery Asia Conference on Computer and Communications Security (ASIACCS) in Xi’an, China. By combining smart watch sensor data with an algorithm to infer key entry sequences from even the smallest of hand movements, the team was able to crack private ATM PINs with 80 percent accuracy on the first try and more than 90 percent accuracy after three tries.

“I have to admit, at the beginning, I thought this would be science fiction,” says Wang. “But it can actually be done. There are just so many sensors on these wearable devices. It provides sufficient information of your hand movements.”

There has long been concern over the security of smart watches, fitness trackers, and other internet-connected wearables that gather sensitive information, such as what time of day a user leaves their home. To infer user inputs on keyboards, past cyber security studies have used cameras to observe how a hand moves over a keypad or machine-based learning techniques to train a program to detect user movements.

Now, spying on a PIN just got way easier, thanks to sensors that measure acceleration, orientation and direction in our wrist devices. Led by Chen Wang and Yingying Chen at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, the researchers conducted 5,000 key-entry tests on three different keypads—a detachable ATM pad, a keypad on ATM machine, and a QWERTY keyboard. Twenty adults performed the tests wearing one of three different devices: the LG W150 or Moto360 smart watches or the InvensenseMPU-9150, a nine-axis motion tracking device.

The team downloaded sensor data from the tests, which recorded hand movements down to the millimeter. Using an algorithm they called the “Backward PIN-sequence Inference Algorithm,” the team was able to break the codes with alarming accuracy.

The most challenging part of the process was eliminating errors that emerge when trying to calculate distance moved based on acceleration, says Wang. The team found the best way to minimize those errors was to work backwards: Most people end a PIN entry by pressing ‘Enter’, so the team started with the Enter key, then traced backwards to each preceding key—a hacker’s version of connect-the-dots.

The method does not require an attacker to be anywhere near an ATM or other key-entry pad (such as an electronic door lock or computer keyboard). Instead, data can be stolen by either a wireless sniffer placed close to a keypad to capture Bluetooth packets sent by the wearable to a smartphone, or by installing malware on the wearable or smartphone to eavesdrop on the data and send it to the attacker’s server.

Wang is unaware of anyone currently stealing PIN numbers in this way, but he says it would not be a stretch. To eliminate this security breach, wearable manufacturers could better secure the data, or even just add noise so it is not so easily translated into physical hand movements.

Until then, you can mask your own data by moving your hand randomly between key clicks when entering a PIN number. “It may look weird, but it helps,” says Wang. “If you’re just moving from key to key, we can track that.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

4 Stolen Health Databases Reportedly for Sale on Dark Web

4 Stolen Health Databases Reportedly for Sale on Dark Web
View original article from Data Breach here.

A hacker is reportedly selling on the dark web copies of databases stolen from three unidentified U.S. healthcare organizations and one unnamed health insurer containing data on nearly 10 million individuals for prices ranging from about $96,000 to $490,000 in bitcoin for each database.

The hacker taking credit, who calls himself "thedarkoverlord," is operating on the TheRealDeal dark web marketplace and is offering to sell "a unique one-off copy" of each of the databases, according to dark net news reporting website DeepDotWeb and other news sites. Some of the data being offered for sale appears to be old, according to news reports.

The hacked data being sold, according to DeepDotWeb, and other media sites, includes:
  • A database containing plaintext data of 9.3 million individuals from a large, unidentified U.S. health insurer, which the apparent hacker told was "retrieved using a zero day within the RDP protocol that gave direct access to this sensitive information;"
  • A database containing plaintext data of 397,000 patients of a healthcare organization based in Georgia, which was "retrieved from an accessible internal network using readily available plaintext usernames and passwords," the hacker toldDeepDotWeb;
  • A database containing plaintext data of 210,000 patients from a healthcare provider operating in the central and Midwestern region of the U.S., which the hacker claims "was retrieved from a severely misconfigured network using readily available plaintext usernames and passwords."
  • A database containing data of 48,000 patients of a Farmington, Mo.-based healthcare organization, which the hacker claims "was retrieved from a Microsoft Access database within their internal network using readily available plaintext usernames and passwords.
Media website The Daily Dot, which says it examined TheRealDeal listings for the three healthcare organization databases, reports that among the data being sold are patients' names, dates of birth, addresses, phone numbers and Social Security reports the insurance database includes similar information.

DeepDotWeb reports that the self-proclaimed hacker, over an encrypted Jabber conversation, told the news site he used "an exploit in how companies use RDP [remote desk protocol]. So it is a very particular bug. The conditions have to be very precise for it."

The hacker is selling each of the databases for prices ranging from 151 to 750 bitcoins, according to various news reports. DeepDotWeb says the hacker provided it with images of the three hacked databases from healthcare organizations, with all the identifiable information redacted "so the target company can remain anonymous for now."

The hacker also left a note on the dark web that appears to indicate that the attacker attempted to extort payments from the healthcare entities before putting the data up for sale on the dark web, according to DeepDotWeb.

"Next time an adversary comes to you and offers you an opportunity to cover this up and make it go away for a small fee to prevent the leak, take the offer. There is a lot more to come," the hacker warns, according to the DeepDotWeb report.

Monetizing a security breach by asking for "hush money" is a classic ploy, says researcher Stephen Cobb of security services firm ESET. "If the attacker gains access to a sensitive database, his top three options to make money are to ransom it, sell it on the black market or simply ask for money to keep quiet," he says. "In this case it looks like the hush money request did not work out, hence the offer for sale."

The sale of health information on the dark web is commonplace, research organizations and law enforcement agencies have confirmed in numerous reports, notes Mac McMillan, CEO of the security consultancy CynergisTek .

"Once information has been stolen, it can be resold over and over again, which is why healthcare information is so valuable and at the same time so dangerous - it's not perishable."

So, if an entity is breached and data stolen, "there is a good chance it will be sold," McMillan says.

Organizations that get a warning from hackers or other third-parties about their stolen data purportedly being for sale on the dark web should immediately conduct a forensics examination to determine whether the report is accurate and the data is authentic and contact law enforcement authorities, McMillan says.

To prevent this kind of data theft, McMillan advises healthcare entities to "eliminate passwords as a single factor for authentication, encrypt your data and employ data loss protection [technology] to identify other instances of the information, like the Access database, and stop the exfiltration of the information."

But it's not only breaches involving hacker attacks that can result in health data being sold on the dark web, warns Ann Paterson, senior vice president and program director of the non-profit coalition Medical Identity Fraud Alliance.

"While MIFA doesn't delve into the dark web, we don't take for granted that lost data, whether through malicious hacking or inadvertent loss such as a lost laptop, is immune to being sold on the dark web. Such cases are not surprising, since those who work in this area understand that selling protected health information is lucrative - it's one of the drivers why this type of crime is growing."

Paterson advises healthcare entities that experience PHI data loss to work with law enforcement and cyber investigators to try to determine if the data has made its way to the dark web. "However, this is often difficult to determine, since data may not be advertised immediately after the loss happens. Fraudsters often 'sit' on the data for a while before attempting to sell it."

Consumers also need to become more educated about the details of medical identity theft and fraud to understand how they might be affected when their PHI is compromised, she says.

"As a society, many of us are experiencing 'data breach fatigue' and may not be paying as close attention to the potential fraud threats when we've been part of a breach. This is dangerous, since there are plenty of indications that PHI is being bought and sold forfraudulent purposes."

And although the owners of the three healthcare databases reportedly being sold on the dark web haven't yet been publicly identified, affected healthcare organizations can often recognize if any of their stolen data is showing up on the dark web, McMillan says. "These records should be an exact match for ones in someone's system," he says. "They should be able to search their system and match them."

But Cobb says confirming the source of stolen data appearing for sale on the dark web can be complicated.

"This can be quite difficult, given that records for one patient may be in dozens of databases belonging to different participants in the highly complex U.S. healthcare delivery and reimbursement system," he says. "Sometimes the seller will reveal the data structure or the database software in which the records were stored, but again, this is not necessarily conclusive, since many institutions use the same software. If a seller has logs of the breach activity, this would be more conclusive, but the seller might not have these and may not be the original breach [source]."

And the same data may be breached numerous times, by multiple attackers, using either the same or different attack vectors, Cobb notes, "particularly if the target organization is not closely monitoring for attacks."

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Tech Tip Tuesday: Outlook Permission Levels

Outlook Permission Levels
Outlook has many different permission levels for sharing parts of your account, such as your tasks or calendar. These levels are the same throughout all parts of Outlook.

Full permission means the user can Read, Edit, and Delete a file or folder. The following three Permission Levels allow the granted person to delete files in the folder you give them access to. Use with caution.
  • Owner - This grants FULL permission to the selected folder. Typically a bad idea.
  • Publishing Editor - This also grants FULL permission to the selected folder, but it does not change who "owns" the folder. Be careful when using this option (useful if other people need to organize your folder)
  • Editor - This grants FULL permission, except for the ability to create new folders. Good for basic calendar sharing. 

The following two Permission Levels allow the granted person to edit/delete only files they have created.
  • Publishing Author - Similar to Publishing Editor, except the granted user cannot delete files (or appointments) you have created.
  • Author - Similar to Editor, except the granted user cannot delete files (or appointments) that you have created.

Minimal Access
The following four Permission Levels grant minimal access to your folder.
  • Nonediting Author - The user can create items (not folders), but cannot edit anything. They can delete items that they have created.
  • Reviewer - The user can see folders, but not sub-folders.
  • Contributor - The user can create items.
  • None - The user has no permissions (That is why the Default user is setup with the Permission Level: None).