According to reports, bank customers in Australia (yes, data breach notification requirements exist down under) have been affected by “an industry-wide” data breach experienced by a third-party service provider to the banks – property valuation firm, LandMark White. As expected, the banks are investigating and in some cases notifying customers about the incident. However, there are reports that some of the affected banks are suspending this vendor from the group of valuation firms they use. This is not an unusual reaction by organizations whose third party service providers have or are believed to have caused a data breach affecting the organization’s customers, patients, students, employees, etc. But, it is worth thinking about whether that is the best course of action.

In the United States, there is a growing number of states that require businesses to contractually bind their third party services providers to maintain reasonable safeguards to protect personal information made available to the third parties to perform services. For example, under the Illinois Personal Information Protection Act:

A contract for the disclosure of personal information concerning an Illinois resident that is maintained by a data collector must include a provision requiring the person to whom the information is disclosed to implement and maintain reasonable security measures to protect those records from unauthorized access, acquisition, destruction, use, modification, or disclosure.

Personal information under this law includes information such as name coupled with Social Security number, drivers license number, medical information, and unique biometric data used to authenticate an individual, such as a fingerprint, retina or iris image, or other unique physical representation or digital representation of biometric data. In connection with obtaining written assurances from a third party vendor, many companies engage their vendors in an assessment process to get a better sense of the security of the vendor’s environment. Assessments can take many forms including interviewing the vendor’s chief information security officer, reviewing policies and procedures, subjecting the vendor to a detailed security questionnaire, penetration tests, and more. When organizations think of best practices for data security, assessment procedures of some kind certainly should be on the list.

But after the assessments and contract negotiations are completed, data breaches can still happen. In many cases, when a third party vendor experiences a breach affecting personal information, the owners of that information are the vendor’s customers. Uncomfortable as it may be, breach notification laws generally require the vendor maintaining the breached personal information to notify the owner, the vendor’s customer(s). At that point, the parties typically work through the incident response process, which in many cases could be driven by contract, although many agreements are silent on this issue.

In any event, organizations will almost invariably begin to think about whether this is a vendor they want on their team going forward. Of course, there are a number of reasons that might support terminating the relationship, such as:

  • The vendor may not have been protecting the information they way it should have under the contract and applicable law, resulting in the breach.
  • The vendor has not been transparent, responsive, or cooperative with the organization during the incident response process.
  • The vendor has not taken sufficient steps to ensure a similar breach will not happen again.
  • The organization is getting pressure from its customers who are serviced or supported, in part, by the vendor.
  • The organization has been unhappy with the vendor for some time (unrelated to the breach) and this is the last straw.

However, there also are reasons for maintaining the relationship, which include:

  • “The grass is always greener on the other side” – it may not be. There is no guarantee that a new vendor will have greater data security, be able to avoid a sophisticated attack, or be willing to work with the owner of the data as transparently as the current vendor.
  • The current vendor arguably is “battle-tested” with data security and incident response more top of mind.
  • There is a long-standing, trusted relationship with the vendor whose products and/or services are too important to the organization.
  • Both the organization and the vendor may be more inclined following a breach to collaborate on enhanced security measures and incident response planning.

The author takes no position here on whether to stay or go, as such a decision requires consideration of a number of factors. Third party service providers play important roles for many organizations, and their selection and continued utilization are decisions that should be made following an appropriate level of due diligence and analysis.

 

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.