On September 21, 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) issued an “Updated Advisory on Potential Sanctions Risks for Facilitating Ransomware Payments” (the “Updated Advisory”).  The Updated Advisory updates and supersedes an earlier OFAC Advisory released on October 1, 2020, and is directed toward not only organizations victimized by ransomware attacks, but also financial institutions, cyber insurance firms, and forensic and incident-response firms that assist organizations victimized by ransomware attacks.

The Updated Advisory is largely consistent with the previous version released in October 2020, restating the U.S. government’s opposition to ransomware victims making payments to cyber threat actors and making clear OFAC’s commitment to bringing enforcement actions in connection with such payments when they constitute U.S. sanctions violations.  However, the Updated Advisory adds important new guidance on “the proactive steps companies can take to mitigate [sanctions enforcement] risks,” including implementing strong cybersecurity practices before an attack; and promptly reporting a ransomware attack to, and engaging in timely and ongoing cooperation with, law enforcement or other relevant agencies.  Taking these steps would constitute “mitigating factors” in any OFAC enforcement action resulting from sanctions violations in connection with ransomware payments.

In conjunction with the new Advisory, OFAC for the first time designated for sanctions a Russian cryptocurrency exchange, SUEX OTC, that OFAC alleges has been involved in facilitating numerous ransomware payments for malicious cyber actors.  As a result of this designation, U.S. persons (that is, all individual U.S. citizens and permanent residents, U.S.-incorporated entities and their branch offices, and anyone physically within the United States) are now prohibited from engaging in or facilitating virtually all transactions with or involving SUEX OTC.


Continue Reading OFAC Issues Updated Guidance on Ransomware Payments

On September 15, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) adopted, on a 3-2 party-line vote, a policy statement that takes a broad view of which health apps and connected devices are subject to the FTC’s Health Breach Notification Rule (the “Rule”) and what triggers the Rule’s notification requirement.

The Rule was promulgated in 2009 under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (“HITECH”) Act.  Under the Rule, vendors of personal health records that are not otherwise regulated under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) are required to notify individuals, the FTC, and, in some cases, the media following a breach involving unsecured identifiable health information.  Third-party service providers also are required to notify covered vendors of any breach.
Continue Reading FTC Adopts Policy Statement on Privacy Breaches by Health Apps and Connected Devices

The California Privacy Protection Agency (CPPA), which is responsible for issuing regulations implementing the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), has posted its approved discussion draft for seeking public comments in preparation for its CPRA rulemaking activities.  The CPPA indicated that it is particularly interested in receiving comments on the following eight topics:
Continue Reading California Privacy Protection Agency Seeks Comments on Preliminary CPRA Issues

There have been many headlines today about the UK Government’s plans to reform UK data protection law. We are still reviewing the (near 150-page) consultation document, but set out below a dozen proposals that we thought might pique the interest of readers of our blog.
Continue Reading 12 Eye-Catching Proposals In The UK Government’s Plan To Reform UK Data Protection Law

On July 2 and July 5, 2021, China’s Cybersecurity Review Office (“CRO”), an office established under the Cyberspace Administration of China (“CAC”) responsible for coordinating the implementation of China’s Cybersecurity Review framework (more details about this framework can be found in our previous blogpost, available here), announced that it had initiated cybersecurity reviews against four mobile applications operated by three Chinese companies:  Didi Chuxing (“Didi”), Yunmanman, Huochebang and BOSS Zhipin (announcements are available here and here).

According to CRO’s announcements, these cybersecurity reviews were initiated based on requirements under the National Security Law (“NSL”), the Cybersecurity Law (“CSL”) and the Measures on Cybersecurity Review (“Measures”) and are aimed at “preventing national data security risks, maintaining national security and safeguarding public interests.”  This is the first time that CRO publically announced the initiation of cybersecurity reviews against companies after the Measures took effect on June 1, 2020.  Per the announcements, these apps are prohibited from registering new user accounts during the review period.

Separately, on July 4, CAC ordered the Didi app to be removed from Chinese app stores on the ground that the app seriously violated Chinese laws and regulations by “illegally collecting and using personal information” (the announcement is available here).  It is unclear whether this “take down” order is related to CRO’s ongoing cybersecurity review of Didi.

This post explains the requirements and procedures of cybersecurity review under the Measures, analyzes the focus of the current review against these three companies, and provides more background on recent enforcement actions against apps illegally collecting and processing personal information.
Continue Reading China Initiates Cybersecurity Review of Didi ChuXing and Three Other Chinese Mobile Applications

Earlier this month the California Privacy Protection Agency (CPPA) held its inaugural public meeting.  The CPPA was created under Proposition 24, the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), which was approved by California voters on November 3, 2020.
Continue Reading California Privacy Protection Agency Holds First Meeting, Preparing for Upcoming Rulemaking

On June 10, 2021, the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (“NPC”) enacted the Data Security Law (“DSL”), which will take effect on September 1, 2021 (the official Chinese version is available here and Covington’s unofficial English translation is available here). This law creates a framework for the protection of broadly defined “data security” from a national security perspective.
Continue Reading China Enacts Data Security Law

Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a decision in Van Buren v. United States, No. 19-783, ruling that a police officer did not violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) when he obtained information from a law enforcement database that he was permitted to access, but did so for an improper purpose.  In so ruling, the Court adopted a relatively narrow reading of the CFAA, and partially resolved a years-long debate concerning the scope of liability under the CFAA.

The CFAA prohibits, inter alia, “intentionally access[ing] a computer without authorization or exceed[ing] authorized access, and thereby obtain[ing] information from any protected computer.”  18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2).  What it means to “exceed authorized access” has been the subject of disagreement among lower courts:  Some have concluded that this term refers to accessing areas of a computer that the user is not permitted to access under any circumstances—e.g., a student accessing her university’s database of grades that is restricted to only administrator use.  Others have concluded that this term also encompasses individuals who are permitted to access an area of a computer for certain purposes, but they do so for an improper purpose—e.g., an administrator accessing the university’s database of grades that she is generally permitted to use, but she does so for the improper purpose of blackmailing a student.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Adopts Narrow Reading of the CFAA in Van Buren v. United States

On Episode 14 of Covington’s Inside Privacy Audiocast, Dan Cooper and Yan Luo discuss recent privacy developments in China, in particular as they relate to China’s draft Data Security Law.

Covington’s Inside Privacy Audiocast offers insights into topical global privacy issues and trends. Subscribe to our Inside Privacy Blog to receive notifications on new episodes.

On May 20, 2021, there was a major ransomware attack on the Irish health system.  The centralized HSE (Health Service Executive), which provides and manages healthcare for the Irish population, was targeted on May 14 and has seen significant disruption since.  It has described the attack as a ‘zero-day threat with a brand new variant of the Conti ransomware.’


Continue Reading Major Cyber-attack on Irish Health System Causes Commercial Concern