Category: Countries

Hackers access Microsoft source codes

7. January 2021

In December 2020 cybersecurity firm FireEye reported that it had been attacked by what they called a “highly sophisticated cyber threat actor”, during which copies of its red team tool kit were stolen. Also in December, FireEye disclosed that it discovered attacks on SolarWinds’ tool “Orion” while investigating its own security breach. In a SEC filing, SolarWinds said up to 18,000 of 33,000 Orion customers may have been affected. The attacks may have begun in early 2020.

A group believed to be state-sponsored used contaminated updates for the “Orion” network management software. They accessed a SolarWinds system used to update Orion and from there inserted malicious code into legitimate software updates that were then distributed to customers. The affected versions are 2019.4 through 2020.2.1, which were released between March and June 2020. It is still unclear how the attackers initially gained access to SolarWinds’ network. Security researcher Vinoth Kumar stated on Twitter he contacted SolarWinds in 2019 regarding an FTP access uploaded to GitHub in 2018. Using the password “solarwinds123,” he was able to upload a file to the SolarWinds server as proof of the vulnerability.

Agencies and companies that have been penetrated by the Orion software include the U.S. Treasury Department, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the National Nuclear Security Administration, parts of the Pentagon, Belkin, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, and Nvidia.
The FBI and other U.S. security agencies issued a joint statement calling the attack “significant and ongoing”. Also, agencies and companies in other countries such as Belgium, Canada, Germany, Israel, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates were affected.

So far, it is unclear what damage, if any, was caused by the attacks and what data was accessed. According to reports, in some cases, internal communications were accessed and various documents were copied, with documents relating to ongoing product development, in particular, attracting the attackers’ interest. In an interview published by the U.S. State Department, U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo claimed Russia was responsible for the attack.

“This was a very significant effort, and I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.”

Among those affected, Microsoft is being most viral regarding the hack. In a blog post published on December 31, the company even admitted that the hackers had access to its source codes. According to that post, they were able to view the code but not modify it. Still, this could pose a significant security risk, as the attackers can now study the software’s architecture and look for possible entry points. Microsoft won’t reveal which tool’s source codes the attackers had access to. It also identified more than 40 of its own customers who were targeted.
Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote:

“This is not just an attack on specific targets but on the trust and reliability of the world’s critical infrastructure in order to advance one nation’s intelligence agency.”

This cyber-attack shows the importance of strong cybersecurity for every company and private user, as even tech-giants and fundamental U.S. authorities were victims of this attack. In particular, access to Microsoft’s source codes could be the ground for further attacks on high- and low-profile targets, as Microsoft’s tools are used in businesses of all sizes and by individuals as well.

EU-UK Trade Deal in light of Data Protection

4. January 2021

Almost fit to be called a Christmas miracle, the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) came to an agreement on December 24th, 2020. The Trade Agreement, called in full length “EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement“, is set out to define new rules from the date of the UK Exit from the EU, January 1st, 2021.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, claimed it was a deal worth fighting for, “because we now have a fair and balanced agreement with the UK, which will protect our European interests, ensure fair competition, and provide much needed predictability for our fishing communities. Finally, we can leave Brexit behind us and look to the future. Europe is now moving on.

In light of Data Protection however, the new Trade Deal has not given much certainty of what is to come next.

Both sides are aware that an adequacy decision by the EU Commission is very important with regard to data protection and cross-border data flows. Accordingly, the EU has agreed to allow a period of four months, extendable by a further two months, during which data can be transferred between EU Member States and the UK without additional safeguards. This period was granted to give the Commission enough time to make an adequacy decision. Accordingly, data transfers can continue as before until possibly mid-2021. However, this arrangement is only valid if the UK does not change its data protection laws in the meantime.

With regard to direct marketing, the situation has not changed either: for individuals, active consent must be given unless there was a prior contractual relationship and the advertising relates to similar products as the prior contract. Furthermore, the advertising must also be precisely recognisable as such, and the possibility of revoking consent must be given in every advertising mail.

However, much else has yet to be clarified. Questions such as the competence of the UK Data Protection Authority, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), as well as the fate of its ongoing investigations, have not yet been answered. As of now, companies with their original EU Headquarters in the UK will have to designate a new Lead Supervisory Authority (Art. 56 GDPR) for their business in the EU.

The upcoming months will determine if questions with high relevance to businesses’ day to day practice will be able to be answered reassuringly.

EDPS considers Privacy Shield replacement unlikely for a while

18. December 2020

The data transfer agreements between the EU and the USA, namely Safe Harbor and its successor Privacy Shield, have suffered a hard fate for years. Both have been declared invalid by the European Court of Justice (CJEU) in the course of proceedings initiated by Austrian lawyer and privacy activist Max Schrems against Facebook. In either case, the court came to the conclusion that the agreements did not meet the requirements to guarantee equivalent data protection standards and thus violated Europeans’ fundamental rights due to data transfer to US law enforcement agencies enabled by US surveillance laws.

The judgement marking the end of the EU-US Privacy Shield (“Schrems II”) has a huge impact on EU companies doing business with the USA, which are now expected to rely on Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs). However, the CJEU tightened the requirements for the SCCs. When using them in the future, companies have to determine whether there is an adequate level of data protection in the third country. Therefore, in particular cases, there may need to be taken additional measures to ensure a level of protection that is essentially the same as in the EU.

Despite this, companies were hoping for a new transatlantic data transfer pact. Though, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) Wojciech Wiewiórowski expressed doubts on an agreement in the near future:

I don’t expect a new solution instead of Privacy Shield in the space of weeks, and probably not even months, and so we have to be ready that the system without a Privacy Shield like solution will last for a while.

He justified his skepticism with the incoming Biden administration, since it may have other priorities than possible changes in the American national security laws. An agreement upon a new data transfer mechanism would admittedly depend on leveling US national security laws with EU fundamental rights.

With that in mind, the EU does not remain inactive. It is also trying to devise different ways to maintain its data transfers with the rest of the world. In this regard, the EDPS appreciated European Commission’s proposed revisions to SCCs, which take into consideration the provisions laid down in CJEU’s judgement “Schrems II”.

The proposed Standard Contractual Clauses look very promising and they are already introducing many thoughts given by the data protection authorities.

EU offers new alliance with the USA on data protection

4. December 2020

The European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy outlined a new EU-US agenda for global change, which was published on December 2nd, 2020. It constitutes a proposal for a new, forward-looking transatlantic cooperation covering a variety of matters, including data protection.

The draft plan states the following guiding principles:

  • Advance of global common goods, providing a solid base for stronger multilateral action and institutions that will support all like-minded partners to join.
  • Pursuing common interests and leverage collective strength to deliver results on strategic priorities.
  • Looking for solutions that respect common values of fairness, openness and competition – including where there are bilateral differences.

As said in the draft plan, it is a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to forge a new global alliance. It includes an appeal for the EU and US to bury the hatchet on persistent sources of transatlantic tension and join forces to shape the digital regulatory environment. The proposal aims to create a shared approach to enforcing data protection law and combatting cybersecurity threats, which could also include possible restrictive measures against attributed attackers from third countries. Moreover, a transatlantic agreement concerning Artificial Intelligence forms a part of the recommendation. The purpose is setting a blueprint for regional and global standards. The EU also wants to openly discuss diverging views on data governance and facilitate free data flow with trust on the basis of high safeguards. Furthermore, the creation of a specific dialogue with the US on the responsibility of online platforms and Big Tech is included in the proposal as well as the development of a common approach to protecting critical technologies.

The draft plan is expected to be submitted for endorsement by the European Council at a meeting on December 10-11th, 2020. It suggests an EU-US Summit in the first half of 2021 as the moment to launch the new transatlantic agenda.

The Controversy around the Council of the European Union’s Declaration on End-to-End Encryption

27. November 2020

In the course of November 2020, the Council of the European Union issued several draft versions of a joint declaration with the working title “Security through encryption and security despite encryption”. The drafts were initially intended only for internal purposes, but leaked and first published by the Austrian brodcasting network “Österreichischer Rundfunk” (“ORF”) in an article by journalist Erich Möchel. Since then, the matter has sparked widespread public interest and media attention.

The controversy around the declaration arose when the ORF commentator Möchel presented further information from unknown sources that “compentent authorities” shall be given “exceptional access” to the end-to-end encryption of communications. This would mean that communications service providers like WhatsApp, Signal etc. would be obliged to allow a backdoor and create a general key to encrypted communications which they would deposit with public authorities. From comparing the version of the declaration from 6 November 2020 with the previous version from 21 October 2020, he highlighted that in the previous version it states that additional practical powers shall be given to “law enforcement and judicial authorities”, whereas in the more recent version, the powers shall be given to “competent authorities in the area of security and criminal justice”. He adds that the new broader wording would include European intelligence agencies as well and allow them to undermine end-to-end encryption. Furthermore, he also indicated that plans to restrict end-to-end encyption in Western countries are not new, but originally proposed by the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance of the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

As a result of the ORF article, the supposed plans to restrict or ban end-to-end encryption have been widely criticised by Politicians, Journalists, and NGOs stating that any backdoors to end-to-end encryption would render any secure encryption impossible.

However, while it can be verified that the “Five Eyes” propose the creation of general keys to access end-to-end encrypted communications, similar plans for the EU cannot be clearly deduced from the EU Council’s declaration at hand. The declaration itself recognises end-to-end encryption as highly beneficial to protect governments, critical infrastructures, civil society, citizens and industry by ensuring privacy, confidentiality and data integrity of communications and personal data. Moreover, it mentions that EU data protection authorities have identified it as an important tool in light of the Schrems II decision of the CJEU. At the same time, the Council’s declaration illustrates that end-to-end encryption poses large challenges for criminal investigations when gathering evidencein cases of cyber crime, making it at times “practically impossible”. Lastly, the Council calls for an open, unbiased and active discussion with the tech industry, research and academia in order to achieve a better balance between “security through encryption and security despite encryption”.

Möchel’s sources for EU plans to ban end-to-end encryption through general keys remain unknown and unverifiable. Despite general concerns for overarching surveillance powers of governments, the public can only approach the controversy around the EU Council’s declaration with due objectivity and remain observant on whether or how the EU will regulate end-to-end encryption and find the right balance between the privacy rights of European citizens and the public security and criminal justice interests of governments.

Microsoft reacts on EDPB’s data transfer recommendations

24. November 2020

Microsoft (“MS”) is among the first companies to react to the European Data Protection Board’s data transfer recommendations (please see our article), as the tech giant announced in a blog post on November 19th. MS calls these additional safeguards “Defending Your Data” and will immediately start implementing them in contracts with public sector and enterprise customers.

In light of the Schrems II ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) on June 16th, the EDPB issued recommendations on how to transfer data into non-EEA countries in accordance with the GDPR on November 17th (please see our article). The recommendations lay out a six-step plan on how to assess whether a data transfer is up to GDPR standards or not. These steps include mapping all data transfer, assessing a third countries legislation, assessing the tool used for transferring data and adding supplementary measures to that tool. Among the latter is a list of technical, organizational, and contractual measures to be implemented to ensure the effectiveness of the tool.

Julie Brill, Corporate Vice President for Global Privacy and Regulatory Affairs and Chief Privacy Officer at Microsoft, issued the statement in which she declares MS to be the first company responding to the EDPB’s guidance. These safeguards include an obligation for MS to challenge all government requests for public sector or enterprise customer data, where it has a lawful basis for doing so; to try and redirect data requests; and to notify the customer promptly if legally allowed, about any data request by an authority, concerning that customer. This was one of the main ETDB recommendations and also included in a draft for new Standard Contractual Clauses published by the European Commission on November 12th. MS announces to monetary compensate customers, whose personal data has to be disclosed in response to government requests.  These changes are additions to the SCC’s MS is using ever since Schrems II. Which include (as MS states) data encrypted to a high standard during transition and storage, transparency regarding government access requests to data (“U.S. National Security Orders Report” dating back to 2011; “Law Enforcement Requests Report“) .

Recently European authorities have been criticizing MS and especially its Microsoft 365 (“MS 365”) (formerly Office 365) tools for not being GDPR compliant. In July 2019 the Ministry of Justice in the Netherlands issued a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA), warning authorities not to use Office 365 ProPlus, Windows 10 Enterprise, as well as Office Online and Mobile, since they do not comply with GDPR standards. The European Data Protection Supervisor issued a warning in July 2020 stating that the use of MS 365 by EU authorities and contracts between EU institutions and MS do not comply with the GDPR. Also, the German Data Security Congress (“GDSC”) issued a statement in October, in which it declared MS 365 as not being compliant with the GDPR. The GDSC is a board made up of the regional data security authorities of all 16 german states and the national data security authority. This declaration was reached by a narrow vote of 9 to 8. Some of the 8 regional authorities later even issued a press release explaining why they voted against the declaration. They criticized a missing involvement and hearing of MS during the process, the GDSC’s use of MS’ Online Service Terms and Data Processing Addendum dating back to January 2020 and the declaration for being too undifferentiated.

Some of the German data protection authorities opposing the GDSC’s statement were quick in welcoming the new developments in a joint press release. Although, they stress that the main issues in data transfer from the EU to the U.S. still were not solved. Especially the CJEU main reserves regarding the mass monitoring of data streams by U.S. intelligence agencies (such as the NSA) are hard to prevent and make up for. Still, they announced the GDSC would resume its talks with MS before the end of 2020.

This quick reaction to the EDPB recommendations should bring some ease into the discussion surrounding MS’ GDPR compliance. It will most likely help MS case, especially with the German authorities, and might even lead to a prompt resolution in a conflict regarding tools that are omnipresent at workplaces all over the globe.

California Voters approve new Privacy Legislation CPRA

20. November 2020

On November 3rd 2020, Californian citizens were able to vote on the California Privacy Rights Act of 2020 (“CPRA”) in a state ballot (we reported). As polls leading up to the vote already suggested, California voters approved the new Privacy legislation, also known as “Prop 24”. The CPRA was passed with 56.2% of Yes Votes to 43.8% of No Votes. Most provisions of the CPRA will enter into force on 1 January 2021 and will become applicable to businesses on 1 January 2023. It will, at large, only apply to information collected from 1 January 2022.

The CPRA will complement and expand privacy rights of California citizens considerably. Among others, the amendments will include:

  • Broadening the term “sale” of personal information to “sale or share” of private information,
  • Adding new requirements to qualify as a “service provider” and defining the term “contractor” anew,
  • Defining the term “consent”,
  • Introducing the category of “Sensitive Information”, including a consumer’s Right to limit the use of “Sensitive Information”,
  • Introducing the concept of “Profiling” and granting consumers the Right to Opt-out of the use of the personal information for Automated Decision-Making,
  • Granting consumers the Right to correct inaccurate information,
  • Granting consumers the Right to Data Portability, and
  • Establishing the California Privacy Protection Agency (CalPPA) with a broad scope of responsibilities and enforcement powers.

Ensuring compliance with the CPRA will require proper preparation. Affected businesses will have to review existing processes or implement new processes in order to guarantee the newly added consumer rights, meet the contractual requirements with service providers/contractors, and show compliance with the new legislation as a whole.

In an interview after the passage of the CPRA, the initiator of the CCPA and the CPRA Alastair Mactaggard commented that

Privacy legislation is here to stay.

He hopes that California Privacy legislation will be a model for other states or even the U.S. Congress to follow, in order to offer consumers in other parts of the country the same Privacy rights as there are in California now.

Canadian Government proposes new federal privacy law

18. November 2020

On November 17th, Navdeep Bains, the Canadian Minister of Information Science and Economic Development, introduced Bill C-11, which is intended to modernize and reshape the Canadian privacy framework and to comply with EU and U.S. legislation. Its short title is Digital Charter Implementation Act,2020 (DCIA). A fact sheet accompanying the DCIA states:

“… If passed, the DCIA would significantly increase protections to Canadians’ personal information by giving Canadians more control and greater transparency when companies handle their personal information. The DCIA would also provide significant new consequences for non-compliance with the law, including steep fines for violations. …”

Part one of the DCIA is the Consumer Privacy Protection Act (CPPA), which is intended to establish a new privacy law in the Canadian private sector. New consent rules are to be adopted, data portability is introduced as a requirement, the subject’s access to its personal data is enhanced as well as their rights to erase personal data. Data subjects further have the right to request businesses to explain how a prediction, recommendation, or decision was reached that was made by an automated decision-making system. Furthermore, they have the right to know how personal data is being used, as well as the right to review and challenge the amount of personal data that is being collected by a company or government. On demand, a privacy management program must be provided to the Canadian Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC). For non-compliance companies face possible fines up to 5% of the company’s global revenue, or C$25 Million, whichever is higher. According to Bains, these are the highest fines in all the G7-nations. Businesses can ask the OPC to approve their codes of practice and certification systems, and in socially beneficial cases, disclose de-identified data with public entities.

Bill C-11 further contains the “Personal Information and Privacy Protection Tribunal Act”, which is supposed to make enforcement of privacy rights faster and more efficient. For that purpose, more resources are committed to the OPC. The OPC can now issue “orders”, which have the same effect as Federal Court orders. Further, the OPC may force companies to comply or order them to stop collecting and using personal data. The newly formed Data Protection Tribunal can raise penalties and hear appeals regarding orders issued by the OPC.

Lastly, a private right of action is also included in the bill. This allows individuals to sue companies within two years after the commissioner issues a finding of privacy violation that is upheld by the Tribunal.

ICO fines Marriott International

9. November 2020

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) fines Marriott International Inc. (Marriott) £18.400.00  (€20.397.504).

The fine refers to a data breach which occurred in 2018. Back then the world’s largest hotel company based in the USA suffered a massive data breach affecting up to 383 million customers. For Marriott it is still not possible to state the exact number of people affected.

The ICO considers it proven that Marriott failed keeping customers’ personal data secure. In context of the breach confidential data like name, address and contact data as well as unencrypted passport and credit card data has been unauthorized accessed.

In a previous statement in 2019 the ICO announced, that it intends to fine Marriott with a fine of £99.200.396 (€109.969.591) this fine has now been reduced.

The reduction is based on the following reasons: the ICO considered the presentations from Marriott as well as the taken steps by Marriott as well as the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In October, the fine previously issued by the ICO against British Airways was also reduced, again partly because of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the data breach occurred before the UK left the EU, the ICO investigated on behalf of all European Data Protection Authorities as lead Supervisory Authority and the fine has been approved by all other Authorities.

Experian to appeal ICO’s decision regarding handling of personal data

29. October 2020

On October 27th, 2020 the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issued an enforcement notice against the credit reference agency Experian Limited, ordering it to make fundamental changes to how it handles personal data related to its direct marketing services in the United Kingdom.

An ICO investigation found that at the three largest credit reference agencies (CRAs) in the UK significant ‘invisible’ processing took place, likely affecting millions of adults in the UK. Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, were ‘trading, enriching and enhancing’ people’s personal data without their knowledge to provide direct marketing services. The data was used by commercial organisations, political parties for political campaigning, or charities for their fundraising campaigns. Some of the CRAs were also using profiling to generate new or previously unknown information about people.

While Equifax and TransUnion made adequate improvements to their marketing practices, the ICO found Experian’s efforts to be insufficient and the processing of personal data to remain non-compliant with the data protection law. As a result, Experian has been given an enforcement notice compelling it to make changes within nine months or it will face financial penalties under the GDPR.

Experian is going to appeal the decision by the ICO regarding the notice over data protection failures. In a statement, the Chief Executive Officer Brian Cassin said:

We disagree with the ICO’s decision today and we intend to appeal. At heart this is about the interpretation of GDPR and we believe the ICO’s view goes beyond the legal requirements. This interpretation also risks damaging the services that help consumers, thousands of small businesses and charities, particularly as they try to recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

We share the ICO’s goals on the need to provide transparency, maintain privacy and ensure consumers are in control of their data. The Experian Consumer Information Portal makes it very easy for consumers to fully understand the ways we work with data and to opt out of having their data processed if they wish.

 

 

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