Will A Crack In Data Breach Litigation Open Floodgates

Data loss and security breach incidents have become common. However, lawsuits related to these incidents are not so common or successful. The problems plaintiffs have encountered include not only figuring out the proper cause of action to seek recovery (many states lack laws permitting private lawsuits for damages related to data loss) but also how to establish provable damages. For example, if a large retail store suffers a security breach of 2 hours leaving your personal identifying information exposed to thieves or hackers, have you really suffered any damages if the information is never used or compromised? What about so called "mitigation" damages or out of pocket expenses for future protection such as credit card insurance, fraud protection, or getting a new credit card and incurring an annual fee?

The First Circuit Court of Appeals in Anderson v. Hannaford Bros. Co recently shed some light on the potential for recovery of mitigation damages in data breach litigation. In the Hannaford case, hackers stole up to 4.2 million credit and debit numbers, expiration dates, and security codes, but they did not steal customer names. Hannaford also had received notice that there were 1,800 cases of alleged misuse or fraud from the theft. In response, many financial institutions cancelled consumers’ cards and fees were incurred to reinstate new cards.  Additionally, several consumers purchased identity theft protection for fear of future misuse. 26 separate lawsuits followed that were consolidated into one action in Maine.
 

At the trial court level, nearly all of the plaintiffs’ claims (20 out of 21) were dismissed based on problems with the alleged theories of recovery or the damages claims. The court found that the damages were not recognized under Maine law for claims for lost time and effort or too speculative to prove for claims involving lost points on cards, fees for replacement cards, and insurance.

On appeal, the First Circuit upheld implied contract and negligence as proper theories of recovery. In regards to damages, the First Circuit reversed the trial court and found that "a plaintiff may recover for costs and harms incurred during a reasonable effort to mitigate." To recover, however, the plaintiffs needed to establish an actual injury such as money lost as opposed to only time and effort.
 

In finding that the plaintiffs stated a proper claim for damages in a data breach case, the First Circuit noted that the Hannaford breach was not inadvertent loss or simple breach with no misuse. Rather, the court emphasized that there was actual misuse of the information that may have been global in reach running up thousands of charges. This type of breach presented a "real risk of misuse." Thus, it was foreseeable that a customer might replace a card or purchase insurance to avoid or mitigate future misuse. The court specifically noted the many other cases finding no action for damages, but distinguished those cases based on the real threat and misuse that occurred with the Hannaford breach.

Although the Hannaford case appears to show a possible breach in the dam regarding damage claims in data breach cases, a closer look reveals that it may be more limited in scope. The Hannaford case involved actual misuse of the information with sophisticated thieves intent on doing harm for financial gain. It is unlikely that Hannaford will provide support for other mitigation cases unless those claims involve actual or legitimate threats of misuse.
 

Small Business Insurance For Data Loss and Security Breach

The Hartford has recently announced a new insurance product specially tailored to fit small business for data loss and security breach. It has been touted as more affordable for the smaller business owner.  More and more small businesses are experiencing the devastating effects of a security breach incident or data loss.  The statistics and stories are well reported from various sources.  Experts agree that costs can exceed $200 per lost page of data.  This can cripple a small business and leave it exposed to lawsuits and litigation.

The front line defense to data loss and security breach risks should always be a good security and privacy plan. A technology attorney working in conjunction with your IT support can develop and help implement an effective security and privacy plan. The process of developing and implementing such plans often reveal the problem areas for any business.  Nevertheless, at the end of the day, there is no 100% fail safe plan to secure data, whether the data is on the cloud or in a server in the office.  There are also unavoidable risks associated with paper documents.  Likewise, there is no plan to provide 100% protection to paper documents.  That is why insurance is a good choice to cover the unavoidable risks.

In addition to providing valuable financial protection in the event of a covered incident, the underwriting and application process for data loss insurance will often require best practices.  This process alone will substantially reduce the likelihood of a significant data loss incident. Accordingly, small businesses should consider a three step process for data loss and security breach:

1. Develop and implement a security and privacy plan

2. Implement best practices as part of insurance application process

3.  Purchase and maintain data loss insurance

Carders, Full Wallets and Identity Theft In Connecticut

I recently attended the Connecticut Privacy Forum.  One of the presentations was by Kim Peretti who is Director of Forensic Services at Pricewaterhouse and a former federal prosecutor that chased down identity thieves globally. (read an interview with Kim here about the infamous TJX case).   I learned quite a bit of information about trafficking in personal identifying information also known as PII.  You can read my live tweets from her presentation here. 

In the data theft industry, the thieves are called "carders."  They are out there looking for victims in person and online.   The primary goal is not only credit card information, but  "full wallets."  Full wallets is when the carder gets all the information you might have in your wallet.  Credit cards, license, bank cards, etc.  The thieves might get this information from you personally, but more likely through a company that keeps this type of information.  Once they get a full wallet, they typically sell it overseas where the information is stored on computer servers and offered for sale on websites.  Scary stuff. 

As a coincidence, I have had a recent uptick of inquiries from victims of identity theft.  There are many laws that are implicated in cases of identity theft such as wire fraud, computer fraud, and theft statutes. The theft may also involve a data breach such as in the case of TJX.   

Here is a quick summary of Connecticut’s statutory law for identity theft.

In Connecticut, an attorney can file a civil lawsuit on behalf of a victim of identity theft and obtain an award of one thousand dollars or treble damages, whichever is greater pursuant to statutory law. In addition, a victim can obtain an award of costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.  Damages may include documented lost wages, or any financial loss that can be tied to the identity theft. Courts have the ability to award other types of relief also, including but not limited to, not less than two years of commercially available identity theft monitoring.  

In Connecticut, attorneys may prove identity theft for civil damages by showing a violation of the criminal identity theft statutes.  This is similar to the civil theft statute and computer crime statute.  In general, the criminal identity theft statutes may be broken down under the following categories:

  • Class B felony identity theft.  This violation concerns cases where the victim is under the age of 60 and the value of money or theft exceeds ten thousand dollars or the victim is over the age of 60 and the value is greater than five thousand dollars.
  • Class C felony identity theft.  This violation occurs where the victim is under 60 and the value is greater than five thousand dollars, or if the victim is over 60.
  • Class D felony identity theft.  This occurs for any violation regardless of age or value.

To prove the underlying violation or actual identity theft, an attorney must prove in the following:

A person commits identity theft when such person knowingly uses personal identifying information of another person to obtain or attempt to obtain, in the name of such other person, money, credit, goods, services, property or medical information without the consent of such other person.

 

Personal identifying information is defined by the statute as:

any name, number or other information that may be used, alone or in conjunction with any other information, to identify a specific individual including, but not limited to, such individual’s name, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, motor vehicle operator’s license number, Social Security number, employee identification number, employer or taxpayer identification number, alien registration number, government passport number, health insurance identification number, demand deposit account number, savings account number, credit card number, debit card number or unique biometric data such as fingerprint, voice print, retina or iris image, or other unique physical representation.

 

If you are a victim of identity theft, you should take fast action.    Some of the actions you might consider: 

  • Identify potential defendants for a lawsuit, such as the actual perpetrator or the source where the perpetrator obtained the information
  • Assess provable damages
  • Seek police involvement and file a private complaint
  • Take immediate action to help restore credit ratings
  • Filing for an injunction, damages or other lawsuit against perpetrators

Consulting an identity theft attorney is also a good idea.  An identity theft attorney can help a victim sort through the various options, take direct action on behalf of the victim, and determine if there are grounds for a lawsuit to seek an injunction, restraining order, or damages. 

 

Civil Liability For Computer Crimes In Connecticut

In Connecticut, a person commits a computer crime if there is any violation of the provisions in Connecticut General Statutes 53a-251.  This is Connecticut’s computer crime statute.   The statute defines criminal conduct under the following categories:

  • Unauthorized access to a computer system
  • Theft of computer services
  • Interruption of computer services
  • Misuse of computer system information
  • Destruction of computer equipment

The computer crime statute itself does not provide for a civil cause of action.  Instead, a victim of a computer crime may rely on Connecticut General Statutes 52-570b, which permits a civil lawsuit for computer-related offenses. The statute provides a basis for a lawsuit for "an aggrieved person who has reason to believe that any other person has been engaged, is engaged or is about to engage in" conduct that violates the computer crime statute. 

As part of a computer crime lawsuit, a business may seek a temporary or permanent injunction, restitution, actual damages, unjust enrichment, an order to appoint a receiver who may take property into his possession, or any other equitable relief.  Punitive damages may be available if there is a showing of malicious or willful conduct. Further, a victim of computer crime may obtain an award of attorney’s fees and costs.

One of the more common types of computer crime or cyber attack is an insider attack with unauthorized access to a computer network.  A common example is a disgruntled employee or vendor with some level of access to the computer network of a business that turns into unauthorized use or damaging conduct. The cyber attack might involve theft of confidential or proprietary information, installing a virus or malicious code to infect the system, or theft and disclosure of information to third parties. 

The most common defense raised to computer crime charges is "authorized access."  The statute exempts conduct that might qualify as improper, but was undertaken with a reasonable belief that it was authorized.  As such, the issue of authorization becomes a critical element in these cases.  Courts might look to the policies and practices of a business with respect to access and security to determine if a reasonable belief defense exists.  Courts will also look to the nature of the conduct to determine if a reasonable belief defense is legitimate under the circumstances of the case.

Responding quickly to a computer crime or cyber attack is important.  A business that is the victim of a computer crime or cyber attack should consider involving an attorney as part of the response team depending on the severity of the incident.  The attorney can assess whether a business that is victim of a computer crime can bring a lawsuit to recover damages or possibly make a claim for losses to an insurance company.  An attorney can  also assist with critical decision making regarding notification to outside parties in the case of a security breach or data loss.  An attorney can further assist with determining the need for involvement of an appropriate forensic expert to preserve and develop critical electronic evidence of the cyber attack. 

 

Will Your Data Loss Be Covered By Insurance?

I always recommend that businesses implement a plan for data loss, security breach, and privacy related to electronically stored information.   As additional protection, I also typically recommend that businesses investigate additional insurance coverage.  In particular, business owners with risk should investigate insurance coverage for first and third party claims arising out of a loss of data, security breach, or technology errors.  These insurance plans are sometimes referred to as cyber liability or technology errors insurance.  I have posted about these insurance plans in the past.

By obtaining the proper data loss insurance coverage, a business should be able to make an insurance claim for its own losses and, at the same time, have protection from lawsuits following a data loss incident.  However, after reading a recent article by  Jaikumar Vijayan from Computerworld.com,  I suppose the critical words here are "should" and "proper" as it relates to insurance coverage for a data loss incident.    

Jaikumar wrote an article about a Colorado insurance company that filed a lawsuit to deny responsibility for the University of Utah’s 2008 security breach and data loss totaling $3.3 million in costs.  Colorado Casualty Insurance filed a declaratory judgment lawsuit in the United States District Court of Utah  (Download complaint here). 

The University of Utah utilized a third party vendor, Perpetual Storage, Inc.,  for data storage concerning data on 1.7 million patients over 16 years at university hospitals and clinics.   According to the lawsuit, the University of Utah incurred 3.3 million in costs to remedy the security breach and made a claim for reimbursement to Perpetual Storage.  In turn, Perpetual Storage referred the matter to Colorado Casualty, its liability insurer. 

In response to Perpetual Storage’s claim, Colorado Casualty filed the lawsuit seeking a ruling that it did not have to provide Perpetual Storage with a defense to any claims brought by the University or reimburse the University for its damages. Perpetual Storage filed a motion to dismiss the complaint claiming that Colorado Casualty did not plead specific facts or mention particular insurance policy provisions.  At this point, the outcome of the lawsuit is not clear.

The takeaway here for Connecticut business owners is that not every insurance plan will provide the proper coverage for a data loss, security breach, or technology errors.  Whether Perpetual Storage had the "proper" coverage in place is not clear as the specific policies were not referenced in the lawsuit or the motion to dismiss.  Nevertheless, the lawsuit serves as a reminder that business owners need to make sure the proper insurance coverages are in place.  Do not assume that a general commercial liability policy will cover the specific risks of data loss, security breach, or technology errors.  In fact, in most instances, a general commercial liability policy will not cover such risks. 

Don’t Get Rocked like RockYou – – Protect Your Customers’ Personal Information

A recently filed class action lawsuit (download complaint) against RockYou highlights the very real threats to businesses related to hackers stealing customer data also known as personally identifiable information (PII).

According to the complaint filed in federal court in San Francisco, RockYou is a publisher and developer of popular online applications and services for use with social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.  RockYou allegedly exposed 32 million of its users to identity theft by failing to encrypt or otherwise protect email account information and passwords.  The suit alleges violations of California Civil Code, breach of contract, and negligence.

 Jason Remillard of Web Host Industry Review provided a detailed post on the lawsuit noting that RockYou may face more difficulties than expected because RockYou is a "launchpad type of service, that hold credentials for other services (myspace, facebook, etc)…"  As such,  RockYou may face liability for data exposures across other platforms. 

Mr. Remillard notes that he has been warning site owners about the risks of holding PII information of consumers.  I agree with Mr. Remillard that avoiding storage of such personal data  in the first place is often the best way to prevent liability exposure for both loss of data and a security breach.  If a business must store PII in its systems then a data loss and security plan must be in place to protect the data.  In prior posts, I offer some suggestions and tips for Connecticut business owners that have sensitive data or store PII of its customers.

Dave Kravets of Wired.com offers some more details about RockYou’s alleged security failures that apparently resulted from the same common vulnerability exploited by hackers in the cases of Hannaford Brothers, 7-Eleven and Heartland Payment System.  The vulnerability results from RockYou’s SQL database,which relates to the actual storage method and management of millions of email accounts and passwords.  The complaint against RockYou alleges that the prior well publicized flaws in SQL should have been addressed with readily available protection measures.

Brennon Slattery of PCworld wrote about the security breach and compared RockYou’s security system to storing passwords and emails on sticky notes.  He noted that RockYou stored the information in plain text words.  In other words, once the hacker got inside RockYou’s system, the passwords and email accounts were easy to read like sticky notes because there was no encryption of the text. 

RockYou has issued a statement explaining the breach and intends to defend the lawsuit. RockYou also has implemented new steps to avoid future breaches including implementation of encryption for all passwords.  Encryption is the method used to make the passwords unreadable once the hacker gains access to the system. 

The RockYou case is another example of the increasing number of data loss and security lawsuits and should serve as a reminder to any business that stores PII to implement a data loss and security plan. 

 

Health Net’s Data Loss In Connecticut Was Theft

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal issued a scathing press release related to Health Net’s recent data loss and security breach.  Blumenthal called Health Net’s story on it "sanitized" and its six month delay in reporting "unconscionable."  Blumenthal called for a federal investigation and intensified state efforts because of the sensitive financial and health information at risk for exposure.

Health Net is based in Shelton, Connecticut and is one of the largest health plans in the Northeast serving approximately 580,000 members.  A report by Lucas Mearian of Computerworld stated that the information stolen was a portable hard drive that had not been encrypted.  Proper encryption could have prevented access of the information.

Connecticut consumers have been affected by the data loss and more than a million people had social security numbers and financial and medical information exposed. Consumers in Arizona, New Jersey, and New York also had sensitive information exposed.  Thus far, there has been no report of identity theft or misuse of the information.

 

The Connecticut Privacy Forum Highlights Very Real Risks For Businesses

On Monday,  I attended the Connecticut Privacy Forum hosted by Travelers.  This Forum was a well attended inaugural meeting of privacy and data security professionals.  I came away from the meeting very impressed with the panel of speakers and topics on the agenda.  I also came away from the meeting as convinced as ever that data loss and security breaches pose a significant risk for nearly all businesses that use computers. 

In one of my earlier posts,  I touched on some of the risks involved for businesses related to data loss and security breaches.  I also offered some potential solutions.  At the Privacy Forum, data loss statistics were presented by the speakers and confirmed that these risks are very real for businesses.  Here is a sample of some of the statistics from 2008 alone:

  • 80 million records were compromised
  • 580 data loss or breach incidents were reported
  • $202 per record was the average cost to business for loss or breach 
  • 47% of the incidents involved corporations or businesses
  • 33% involved compromised social security numbers 

The speakers also offered some of the solutions for businesses in terms of risk management and planning.  The seminar further included a detailed overview of federal and state laws covering privacy rights and data security.   You can access the presentation materials at ctprivacy.com 

Overall, this was a great event concerning a topic that will continue to be relevant to business litigation in the coming years.  Congratulations to the organizers, David Baker and Peter Bernstein, from Travelers on a well run event!

Insurance Might Be An Option for Data Loss Lawsuits Alleging Negligence Against Businesses

Every business in Connecticut, big or small, faces significant financial consequences for data loss or a breach of security.  As I noted in a business tips post on this blog, implementing a strong data loss and privacy policy is critical for preventing a loss or mitigating its effects and damages.  Of course, once you have a policy or procedure in place, your business could face a lawsuit for negligence for violation of these same policies and procedures.   To add extra protection against the devastating costs of data loss or a security breach, businesses should also consider insurance coverage.

Lawsuits over data loss and security breaches are becoming more common.  Obtaining insurance to cover losses from data loss can potentially save your business.  Business litigation attorneys bringing lawsuits over data losses often include negligence as one of the grounds or theories of recovery in these cases.  Take for example, the recent class action lawsuit for data loss filed against Aetna in Federal Court in Pennsylvania.  The lead theory of recovery in the complaint against Aetna is negligence.   

There may be many reasons why attorneys pursue negligence as a theory of recovery in these security and privacy cases.  However, pursuing a negligence theory increases the possibility of triggering the breaching company’s insurance coverage for data loss, if the company has a policy.  If a business has insurance coverage that applies to the allegations in the complaint, the insurance company typically will also provide a legal defense to the claim.   Legal costs alone could be enough to sink a business, let alone the damages.   

When considering the cost of a data loss insurance policy, a business owner should likewise consider the cost to the business of a data breach.  How can you estimate the cost?  One way to estimate the cost is to use a data loss calculator.  You might also estimate your data loss costs by referencing this 2009 Ponemon Institute benchmark study estimating costs at $202 per page and rising. 

The price of an insurance policy may be cost effective when you consider the potential devastating financial impact of a major data loss or security breach.  In addition, if a business has a strong data loss policy and procedure in place, the cost of insurance should be lower.   Although cyber liability insurance has been available for over ten years, more of these insurance policies are being offered at better prices today.  Here are some links to major insurance companies offering insurance policies for data loss, cyber liability, and technology errors. 

Technology 404 by Darwin.

CyberChoice by The Hartford

 CyberSecurity by Chubb

ACE DigitTech

OneBeacon @vantage

 

Technology Tips For Connecticut Businesses To Avoid Litigation

As part of this Blog, I am going to regularly post technology tips for any Connecticut business to manage risks and avoid lawsuits. These tips will be based on a presentation I did for the Hartford Business Journal’s Etechnology Summit concerning technology bombs that can sink a business.

Here’s todays tip for Connecticut businesses to avoid financial loss as a result of datal loss and security breaches.

Implement a Data Loss Policy and Solution

Any business that stores third party information or personal indentifiers (credit card information, social security numbers) on its computer systems faces potential exposure under a host of privacy laws.  For a good resource on privacy laws go to the Privacy Law Blog by Proskauer Rose LLP.  For an example of a new privacy law in Connecticut, consider the“Act Concerning the Confidentiality of Social Security Numbers.”  Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act could also be implicated in a data loss case.

Data loss or a security breach can cause a huge financial problem, bad public realtions, and signficant down time.  Consider the recent case of TJX reported on by Sheri Qaulters for the National Law Journal.  Discount retailer TJX had a data breach involving exposure of 45 million credit and debit cards.   TJX entered into various settlements including payment of $9.75 million to 41 states; $30 to every consumer who used a credit or debit card; and an undisclosed settlement with three banks. Ouch.

TJX is an extreme example, but data loss can sink a small to medium sized business.  How can a business mimize its exposure to lawsuits from data loss or security breach?

Implement a data loss policy and solution for your business.   There is no one size fits all policy and solution and every business will have different needs.  If you already have a policy, you should have it reviewed regularly for changes in the law.  If you do not have a policy in place, you need to start somewhere.  For “do it yourselfers” there is the Federal Trade Commision’s Guide for Business and Protecting Personal Information.  The FTC’s guide is a 5 step plan from identifying your risk exposure to implementing procedures.

 In addition  to implementing policies, any business with a significant risk exposure for data loss (i.e. medical practice, retailers, e commerce) should consider purchasing a cyber liability insurance policy.  These policies are now more afforadable and many insurers such as The Hartford are now actively underwriting polices to cover first and third party data loss claims and providing ongoing resources and information.

The bottom line is, a business cannot afford to take the risk of ignoring data loss and security breach exposure.  Do not wait for the first breach or lawsuit.