The Secure Times

An online forum of the ABA Section of Antitrust Law's Privacy and Information Security Committee


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Windows XP End of Life Poses Risks to the Significant Percentage of Companies Still Tied to the Platform

On April 8, Microsoft officially ended all support and ceased providing updates for their Windows XP operating system. This “end of life” (EOL) announcement is not uncommon with software platforms, where continued support of aging software (XP is over 12 1/2 years old) becomes too expensive or too impractical, and the user is thus encouraged to upgrade to a newer version of that software. This all makes sense on the surface. As we’ve seen time and time again, software–especially large, complex pieces of software like operating systems–tends not to age well. Due to the sheer complexity of systems like XP, retrofitting patches to fix errors and vulnerabilities can be quite difficult, and may even lead to unintended consequences (i.e., more bugs). Thus, over time, software companies may urge their customers to migrate to the (relatively) clean slate provided by upgraded versions of their software.

The XP EOL announcement came as no surprise. Microsoft has been urging customers to start planning for upgrades since it terminated all retail sales of the operating system in 2008. But according to recent statistics provided by Net Applications, nearly 28% of Internet users are still running some version of Windows XP. Even worse, this number does not include those computers running XP that aren’t use for web browsing, e.g., servers, point-of-sale (POS) systems, medical systems, industrial systems, security systems, and ATMs. This number includes large organizations such as banks and governments which, due mainly to their size and conservative technology adoption policies, take more time to migrate away from software platforms, especially those that provide core services, such as operating systems. This has led to multi-million dollar agreements between these organizations and Microsoft in order to provide continued support for the short term.

But what about those companies and organizations who don’t necessarily have the wherewithal to negotiate individual support contracts with Microsoft? In addition, these smaller companies too often don’t have the depth of IT support required to keep up with these updates, and some organizations may not even be aware they’re still running XP within their network. For these companies, the fact that Microsoft will no longer be providing public patches for future vulnerabilities could prove to be a serious problem.

The first example of this problem showed up this week. On Monday, a new “zero-day” vulnerability in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) web browser was announced. This vulnerability is quite serious, as it could allow for remote code execution on a user’s computer, and had already been detected as an attack being used in the wild. Technology news sources were referring to this bug as the first sign of the “XPocalypse,” where users and organizations still running the unsupported platform would be left to the wolves, so to speak.

Yesterday, Microsoft took the unusual step of issuing a patch for this IE vulnerability for all of its platforms, including the “unsupported” Windows XP. While this step may have averted disaster for XP users–at least for the time being–many technology experts are warning that providing retroactive support for EOL platforms will not solve the larger problem of a significant number of users running aging, vulnerable software. This should concern not only the companies still running XP, but the entire Internet ecosystem, since compromised computer systems are often repurposed as platforms for further attacks.

It’s still too early to tell whether any of the dire predictions presented by the so-called XPocalypse will come to pass. Some cynics have pointed out that we are not likely to see a sudden surge of attacks on XP, since XP has been quite vulnerable to attack for some time, even when it was supported. Either way, companies would do well to make software security a priority, from the C-Suite on down. Companies are coming to realize that many (or most) of them are actually in the software business, as so much of their operation depends on the software that sits behind the scenes. There may come a time that the FTC views the unsupported use of XP as failing to take reasonable security measures. Adopting a wait-and-see approach to software security is bound to make a potentially bad situation even worse.


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FTC v. Wyndham Update, Part 3

In earlier updates, we’ve provided background and tracked the progress (and the unique circumstances) of FTC v. Wyndham Worldwide Corp., et al. On April 7, a highly anticipated opinion was issued by New Jersey District Court Judge Esther Salas in a case that will likely have broad implications in the realms of privacy and data security. Through a motion to dismiss, Wyndham argued that the FTC had no authority to assert a claim in the data security context, that the FTC must first formally promulgate data security regulations before bringing such a claim, and that the FTC’s pleadings of consumer harm were insufficient to support their claims. The Wyndham court sided with the FTC on all of these arguments, and dismissed Wyndham’s motion to dismiss.

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FTC v. Wyndham Update

Edit (Feb. 5, 2014): For a more recent update on this case, please see this post.

On November 1, Maureen Ohlhausen, a Commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), held an “ask me (almost) anything” (AMAA) session on Reddit. There were no real surprises in the questions Commissioner Ohlhausen answered, and the AMAA format is not well-suited to lengthy responses. One interesting topic that did arise, however, was the FTC’s complaint against Wyndham Worldwide Corporation, and Wyndham’s subsequent filing of a motion to dismiss the FTC action against them. Commissioner Ohlhausen declined to discuss the ongoing litigation, but asserted generally that the FTC has the authority to bring such actions under Section 5 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45. While there were no unexpected revelations in the Commissioner’s response, I thought it presented an excellent opportunity to bring everyone up to speed on the Wyndham litigation.

On June 26, 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint in Arizona Federal District Court against Wyndham Worldwide Corporation, alleging that Wyndham “fail[ed] to maintain reasonable security” on their computer networks, which led to a data breach resulting in the theft of payment card data for hundreds of thousands of Wyndham customers, and more than $10.6 million in fraudulent charges on customers’ accounts.  Specifically, the complaint alleged that Wyndham engaged in deceptive business practices in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act by misrepresenting the security measures it undertook to protect customers’ personal information. The complaint also alleged that Wyndham’s failure to provide reasonable data security is an unfair trade practice, also in violation of Section 5.

On August 27, 2012, Wyndham  responded by filing a motion to dismiss the FTC’s complaint, asserting, inter alia, that the FTC lacked the statutory authority to “establish data-security standards for the private sector and enforce those standards in federal court,” thus challenging the FTC’s authority to bring the unfairness count under the FTC Act. In their October 1, 2012 response, the FTC asked the court to reject Wyndham’s arguments, stating that the FTC’s complaint alleged a number of specific security failures on the part of Wyndham, which resulted in two violations of the FTC Act. The case was transferred to the Federal District of New Jersey on March 25, 2013, and Wyndham’s motions to dismiss were denied. On April 26, Wyndham once again filed motions to dismiss the FTC’s complaint, again asserting that the FTC lacked the legal authority to legislate data security standards for private businesses under Section 5 of the FTC Act.

At stake in this litigation is the FTC’s ability to bring enforcement claims against companies that suffer data breach due to a lack of “reasonable security.” What is unique in this case is Wyndham’s decision to fight the FTC action in court rather than make efforts to settle the case, as other companies have done when faced with similar allegations by the FTC. For example, in 2006, the FTC hit ChoicePoint Inc. with a $10 million penalty over data breach where over 180,000 payment card numbers were stolen. The FTC has also gone after such high-profile companies as Twitter, HTC, and Google based on similar facts and law. These actions resulted in out-of-court settlements.

If Wyndham’s pending motions to dismiss are denied, and the FTC ultimately prevails in this case, it is likely that the FTC will continue to bring these actions, and businesses will likely see an increased level of scrutiny applied to their network security. If, however, Wyndham succeeds and the FTC case against them is dismissed, public policy questions regarding data security will likely fall back to Congress to resolve.

Oral argument for the pending motions to dismiss are scheduled for November 7. No doubt many parties will be following these proceedings with great interest.

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Direct Marketing Association Launches “Data Protection Alliance”

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On October 29, 2013, the Direct Marketing Association (“DMA”) announced the launch of a new initiative, the Data Protection Alliance, which it describes “as  a legislative coalition that will focus specifically on ensuring that effective regulation and legislation protects the value of the Data-Driven Marketing Economy far into the future.” In its announcement release, the DMA reports the results of a study it commissioned on the economic impact of what calls “the responsible use of consumer data” on “data-driven innovation.” According to the DMA, its study indicated that regulation which “impeded responsible exchange of data across the Data-Driven Marketing Economy” would cause substantial negative damage to the U.S.’ economic growth and employment. Instead of such regulation, the DMA asks Congress to focus on its “Five Fundamentals for the Future”:

  1. Pass a national data security and breach notification law;

  2. Preempt state laws that endanger the value of data;

  3. Prohibit privacy class action suits and fund Federal Trade Commission enforcement;

  4. Reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA); and

  5. Preserve robust self-regulation for the Data-Driven Marketing Economy.

The DMA is explicitly concerned with its members’ interests, as any trade group would be, and this report and new Data Protection Alliance are far from the only views being expressed as to the need for legislation and regulation to alter the current balance between individual control and commercial use of personal information. Given the size and influence of the DMA and its members, though, this announcement provides useful information on the framing of the ongoing debate in the United States and elsewhere over privacy regulation.


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Privacy and Data Protection Impacting on International Trade Talks

European Commission

The European Union and the United States are currently negotiating a broad compact on trade called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (“TTIP”). While the negotiations themselves are non-public, among the issues that are reported to be potential obstacles to agreement are privacy and data protection. Not only does the European Union mandate a much stronger set of data protection and privacy laws for its member states than exist in the United States, but recent revelations of U.S. surveillance practices (including of European leaders) have highlighted the legal and cultural divide.

In an October 29, 2013 speech in Washington, D.C., Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Justice Commissioner, emphasized that Europe would not put its more stringent privacy rules at risk of weakening as part of the TTIP negotiations. She said in part,

Friends and partners do not spy on each other. Friends and partners talk and negotiate. For ambitious and complex negotiations to succeed there needs to be trust among the negotiating partners. That is why I am here in Washington: to help rebuild trust.

You are aware of the deep concerns that recent developments concerning intelligence issues have raised among European citizens. They have unfortunately shaken and damaged our relationship.

The close relationship between Europe and the USA is of utmost value. And like any partnership, it must be based on respect and trust. Spying certainly does not lead to trust. That is why it is urgent and essential that our partners take clear action to rebuild trust….

The relations between Europe and the US run very deep, both economically and politically. Our partnership has not fallen from the sky. It is the most successful commercial partnership the world has ever seen. The energy it injects into to our economies is measured in millions, billions and trillions – of jobs, trade and investment flows. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership could improve the figures and take them to new highs.

But getting there will not be easy. There are challenges to get it done and there are issues that will easily derail it. One such issue is data and the protection of personal data.

This is an important issue in Europe because data protection is a fundamental right. The reason for this is rooted in our historical experience with dictatorships from the right and from the left of the political spectrum. They have led to a common understanding in Europe that privacy is an integral part of human dignity and personal freedom. Control of every movement, every word or every e-mail made for private purposes is not compatible with Europe’s fundamental values or our common understanding of a free society.

This is why I warn against bringing data protection to the trade talks. Data protection is not red tape or a tariff. It is a fundamental right and as such it is not negotiable….

Beyond the TTIP talks, the divergence between European and U.S. privacy practices is putting new pressure on an existing legal framework, the Safe Harbor that was adopted after the enactment of the EU Data Protection Directive. A number of EU committees and political groups are either criticizing or recommending revocation of the Safe Harbor, a development that could significantly change the risk management calculus for the numerous companies which move personal information between the United States and Europe.


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In Step Towards Broader Self-Regulation, Facebook to Allow AdChoices Icon in Ads

Facebook has closed a major gap in the industry compliance puzzle by announcing that it will now adhere to a widespread notice-and-choice program for its advertising platform. The site will be adopting the Digital Advertising Alliance’s AdChoices program, meaning it will place the program’s blue-triangled icons onto ads served by its FBX ad exchange.  The move will provide more transparency and an opt-out function to ads on the world’s most popular social networking site.

Transparency and uniformity in behaviorally targeted ads are what the Digital Advertising Alliance had in mind with its self-regulatory program.  The program is intended in part to prove to the government that the advertising industry can be proactive about sharing the consumer information that online advertisers store and use to target ads, and allow them to opt out on their own. Users can click on the “AdChoices” icon and its ubiquitous blue triangle, which takes users directly to the ad partner’s site, where they can see what information is being used to target ads and opt out.

The AdChoices program has two main advantages: broad-based industry usage and consistency from ad to ad and site to site.  However, one industry publication described Facebook’s choice to go its own way as a “gaping hole” in the voluntary industry program. Facebook is the #2 most trafficked site on the web, and the No. 1 publisher of display ads in the U.S. Due to the data is possesses about its users, it has a unique ability to behaviorally target ads. Prior to adoption, Facebook’s interface took more steps than the DAA’s to get more information and an opt-out button, including several clicks before being referred to the ad server’s site.

It should be noted that the AdChoices icon will not be displayed universally or in the fashion seen on other sites. The option will only appear on behaviorally based ads served through Facebook’s FBX platform.  Clicking the “x” on other ads will lead to Facebook’s own information and opt-out screens. FBX partners who participate in the AdChoices program will be able to display the icon- but it will only show up once a user’s cursor hovers over the ad.

This announcement has several potential impacts for Facebook and voluntary industry privacy programs. Facebook’s adoption of the icon and program should increase the visibility of the icon and the program- even if it not displayed as prominently on Facebook ads.  It will also subject Facebook to increased accountability, in the form of compliance reviews and complaint resolution procedures by the Council of Better Business Bureaus and the Direct Marketing Association, which oversee the program. Finally, it should provide increased legitimacy to industry privacy programs by bringing one of the whales of online advertising in tune with the FTC’s privacy framework.  In its final privacy report, the FTC mentioned the DAA’s program as a creative and practical consumer choice mechanism and part of significant industry progress towards its goal of a Do-Not-Track mechanism.

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