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Industry: Cybercrimes/Technology

Cyber Attacks Targeting K-12 Education Are On the Rise

As remote learning continues to play a critical role in the world’s pandemic response, cybercriminals see another opportunity for exploitation.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) recently issued an Advisory warning of cyber-attacks to K-12 educational institutions.  The Advisory reports that in August and September, ransomware incidents targeting K-12 education reported to the MS-SAC made up 57% of all reported ransomware incidents, up from 28% reported from January through July.

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Who’s On the Other Side: OFAC Releases Guidance on Ransomware Payments and Sanctions Enforcement

As we previously reported, companies across the globe increasingly have been targeted by cyber criminals during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Just last month, a major U.S. healthcare provider, United Health Services (“UHS”), suffered a ransomware attack, crippling its digital networks and forcing many UHS-owned facilities to rely on offline backups and paper charts to provide health care.  The attack on UHS is one of the latest incidents in a trend of increasing ransomware attacks, a type of cyberattack in which cyber criminals use malware to block access to the victim’s computer system to extract a monetary payment.  Ransomware victims are already faced with difficult decisions regarding payment and business continuity.  But the underlying risk associated with such payments runs deeper, in no small part because cyber criminals are almost universally anonymous.  A recent advisory (the “Advisory”) from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) provides guidance on ransomware payments that may implicate U.S. sanctions.  The Advisory makes clear that parties that pay or facilitate ransomware payments may face substantial legal consequences if a payment is made to a party subject to U.S. sanctions, whether the payor knows of those sanctions or not.

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Ransomware Attacks During COVID-19

As we previously described and as reflected in the rapidly increasing number of cyber-attacks since its start, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a shift in working practices that hackers and other bad actors are using to their advantage.  Recent studies show a 273% percent rise in large-scale data breaches in the first quarter of 2020, compared to prior-year statistics, and a 109% year-over-year increase in ransomware attacks in the United States through the first half of 2020.  This post will focus specifically on ransomware attacks targeting researchers working on a COVID-19 vaccine and how these attacks have evolved since the start of the pandemic.

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The Supreme Court Punts on Clarifying the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

The federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (“CFAA”) has generated controversy and disagreement among courts and commentators regarding the scope of its application.  The statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1030, which provides for both criminal and civil penalties, prohibits accessing a computer or protected computer “without authorization” or in a manner “exceeding authorized access.”  Courts are divided as to the meaning of these phrases, yet the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined the opportunity to resolve the circuit split that has developed, leaving the exact scope of this important statute in question.

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Hackers Target the Bottom Line: Business Operations and Earnings

Over the past several years, we have witnessed a fundamental shift in orchestrated cyber-attacks from hacking credit card data and healthcare information to targeting businesses, their operations and bottom lines.

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The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Will Need To Wait Another Day In New York’s Commercial Division

Justice Shirley Kornreich recently issued one of the few New York state court decisions  that address the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”).  Spec Simple, Inc. v. Designer Pages Online LLC,  No. 651860/2015, 2017 BL 160865 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. May 10, 2017).  The CFAA criminalizes both accessing a computer without authorization and exceeding authorized access and thereby obtaining information from any protected computer.  Id. at *3 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C)). The CFAA also provides a civil cause of action to any person who suffers damage or loss because of a violation of the CFAA.  Id. at *4 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 1030(g)).  As discussed below, the decision provides a helpful look into the interpretation of CFAA claims in the future.

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Digital Divide Deepens: Tech Community Backs Second Circuit in Clash with Magistrates over Reach of U.S. Warrants

The technology community took aim at a recent federal magistrate’s ruling that ordered Google Inc. to comply with search warrants seeking customer emails stored on servers abroad, calling the decision “an impermissible extraterritorial application of U.S. law.” In rejecting a recent federal appeals court decision in a similar case in favor of Microsoft Corp., U.S. Magistrate Thomas J. Reuter in Philadelphia ruled that transferring emails from a foreign server to the U.S. was not tantamount to a seizure beyond American borders. The technology companies urged the court to reject the “fiction that such a foreign search and seizure is a domestic act….”

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