As announcements relaying the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) continue daily, governmental agencies at all levels are offering information and guidance, and businesses are scrambling to prepare and protect their employees and customers. As part of a larger group in my firm helping to synthesize all this information, there is an aspect of responding to COVID-19 that has not gotten much attention – emerging phishing attacks by informed hackers trying to capitalize on fears employees have about the COVID-19 crisis and what their employers are doing to respond.

Image result for coronavirus phishing

We have posted several times about the different techniques hackers use to trick unsuspecting, distracted, or nervous employees into falling victim to a phishing attack. A good example, also particularly relevant now, is IRS Form W-2 cyber scams designed to get workers to email other employees’ Forms W-2. The IRS has issued numerous warnings about these scams and guidance for addressing them. And, the World Health Organization has issued a similar warning relating to COVID-19.

At the moment, organizations around the world are communicating with their workforces about coronavirus in areas such as (i) updated travel policies, (ii) work at home requirements, and (iii) cleaning best practices. ​Businesses also might be adjusting or changing plans for conferences and other business initiatives in response to the reported spread of COVID-19. Hackers do their research and see the opportunity. Through social engineering, they can target employees who in the current environment might be more likely to respond to an executive’s email seeking action on a coronavirus-related topic.

As with Form W-2 and other scams, employees may, for example, receive fake emails purporting to be information from management about coronavirus. The hacker might assume an executive’s identity and apparent e-mail address for the purpose of sending what appears to be a legitimate request to address a critical business need surrounding the virus’ outbreak. Unsuspecting and nervous employees might be more likely to respond, allowing attackers into the organization’s information systems.

While an organization can use firewalls, web filters, malware scans or other security software to hinder spear phishing, experts agree the best defense is employee awareness. So, it is a good idea to remind employees about this threat, along with guidance for avoiding these attacks.

In the event your business is a victim of such an attack, it needs to be prepared to respond. This may require steps such as (i) investigating the nature and scope of the attack, (ii) ensuring that the attackers are not still present in its systems, (iii) determining whether notification is required under applicable state law to individuals and state agencies, and (iv) helping employees whose personal information may have been compromised.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently leads the firm’s Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security Practice, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently leads the firm’s Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security Practice, 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, Mr. Lazzarotti 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 – Mr. Lazzarotti 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 – Mr. Lazzarotti’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.

Mr. Lazzarotti 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.

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