SEC Report on Internal Controls, Cybersecurity

Cyber-security has become – or perhaps should be – a key area of concern for every enterprise. The risks are substantial for the firm, its shareholders, executives and customers as recent cases illustrate. Every enterprise large or small is a potential victim. The losses can and often are substantial not just in dollars but also in trust, customers and more. The Commission has issued guidance. The agency has also brought enforcement actions.

Now, however, the Commission has issued a report based on nine investigations of firms involved in a variety of industries, cautioning about cyber risks in the context of the firm’s obligations to maintain proper internal controls. Report of Investigation Pursuant to Section 21(a) of the Exchange Act Regarding Certain Cyber-Related Frauds Perpetrated Against Public Companies, October 16, 2018. 

Claimed Failure to Disclose GDPR’s Collateral Impact Leads to Class Action Against Nielsen Holdings

In what could be a harbinger of things to come for business models negatively impacted by the throttling of data flow under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”), Nielsen Holdings (“Nielsen”) was named in a putative class action complaint on August 22, 2018, for allegedly misrepresenting the anticipated effects of GDPR on Nielsen’s business model.  Importantly, the class action takes aim not at Nielsen’s ability to comply with GDPR, but rather the effects of GDPR on the big data platforms used by Nielsen.  Nielsen provides consumer market analytics, particularly regarding digital media and e-commerce.  When big data platforms and associated analytic providers began restricting access to consumer data in order to comply with GDPR, it apparently negatively impacted Nielsen’s business model.  Those effects surfaced in Nielsen’s latest Q2 financial report, causing its stock to drop by more than 25 percent, and giving rise to the class action claims.

Financial Industry Groups Should Have a Pulse on the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018

Financial institutions that are grappling with how the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”)may impact their U.S. operations should also be keeping a close eye on the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (“CCPA”).  The CCPA, or Assembly Bill (“AB”) No. 375, which was passed on June 28, 2018 and is set to take effect in 2020, mirrors some GDPR protections by providing California residents greater control over the dissemination of their personal data, including the option of barring companies from selling their data. 

How to Prepare for Theft of Company Information

Companies should take three steps now to ensure use of the Defend Trade Secrets Act.

In May, President Barack Obama signed into law the Defend Trade Secrets Act that creates a federal civil cause of action for the misappropriation of trade secrets. This new law amends the Economic Espionage Act, which makes it a federal crime to steal and use trade secrets. Title 18 U.S.C. 1831, et. seq. For companies that depend on confidential information to provide them a competitive edge, there are several proactive steps they should take to ensure their use and the full benefits of this statute if their trade secrets are stolen.

Most significantly, the Defend Trade Secrets Act, unlike the state trade secrets laws, provides for an ex parte “order for the seizure of property necessary to prevent the propagation or dissemination of the trade secret,” upon a showing of “exceptional circumstance.” Traditional state court equitable remedies are limited to a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. The law also makes the theft, possession and use of trade secrets a predicate act for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Statue, which can form the basis of a civil RICO action for treble damages and attorney fees. (In the past, federal courts have been reluctant under most circumstances to find a RICO “pattern” for trade secrets theft as part of a scheme to defraud based on the mail and wire fraud statutes. See, e.g., Bro-Tech Corp. v. Thermax (E.D. Pa. 2009).

Cybersecurity Advice to CEOs and Boards “Take more responsibility”!

The White House and its top security advisors are regularly advised about cyberintrusions and as a result the “time has come for CEOs and Boards to take personal responsibility for improving their companies’ cyber security” according to Former White House Senior Director for Cybersecurity Sameer Bhalotra. In the recent report from LogRhythm entitled “The Cyber Threat Risk – Oversight Guidance for CEOs and Boards” Bhalotra went to say:

Global payment systems, private customer data, critical control systems, and core intellectual property are all at risk today.

As cyber criminals step up their game, government regulators get more involved, litigators and courts wade in deeper, and the public learns more about cyber risks, corporate leaders will have to step up accordingly.

Cybersecurity Compliance Just Got Tougher

While cybersecurity risks have increased, government regulation has traditionally lagged behind. Recently, some government entities have tried to catch up by mandating that companies take a proactive approach toward protecting personal and competitively sensitive data. The move is a departure from the traditional reactive response of simply notifying consumers after their personal data is breached.

With this shift in emphasis, companies are asking the obvious questions: “What are we expected to do and what is a proactive cybersecurity compliance program?”

Both on the state level and through federal regulatory agencies, the government is beginning to dictate a comprehensive compliance approach to data protection. Late last year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’ s Cybersecurity Examination Initiative directed broker-dealers to “further assess cybersecurity preparedness in the securities industry.” Thus, the SEC announced that it “will focus on key topics including governance and risk assessment, access rights and controls, data loss prevention, vendor management, training and incident response.”

‘Cannibal Cop’ Decision Restrains Employers

In December, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in U.S. v. Valle interpreted the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to exclude employees who access their employer’s computers. The upshot is that if you are an employee in the Second Circuit and steal data from your employer to commit identity theft or to provide it to a competitor, you cannot be prosecuted by the Department of Justice or sued by your employer under the CFAA.

The ‘Safe Harbor’ Scheme Coming Under Challenge

By: Ron Moscona, a partner in Dorsey & Whitney’s London Office The Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) held yesterday, in its decision in Schrems v. Data Protection Commissioner[1], that the decision of the European Commission of July 2000 which provides the legal basis under EU law for the “Safe Harbor” scheme is… Read More

How To Make Computer Fraud Claims Stick

The recent decision in Allied Portables v. Youmans from the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida underscores the need for businesses to establish explicit, well-advertised written policies identifying the scope of permissible employee access to company computers. Absent such policies, employers may be precluded from using the civil remedy in the federal computer crime statute, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, to sue employees who steal or destroy data from a company computers.

Allied properly recognized that for a CFAA claim to succeed, the plaintiff employer must be able to show the critical element that the defendant employee accessed a company computer by exceeding the authorized access to the computer.

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