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Mobile-Phone Case at U.S. Supreme Court to Test Privacy Protections

November 21, 2017

A U.S. Supreme Court with a record of protecting digital privacy is taking up a case that may curb law enforcement officials’ power to track people using mobile-phone data.

In arguments Nov. 29, the justices will consider requiring prosecutors to get a warrant before obtaining mobile-phone tower records that show a person’s location over the course of weeks or months.

The case could have a far-reaching impact. Prosecutors seek phone-location information from telecommunications companies in tens of thousands of cases a year. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team used location data to build a case against George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators.

Beyond location data, the case has implications for the growing number of personal and household devices that connect to the cloud — including virtual assistants, smart thermostats and fitness trackers.

“The data that is transmitted can reveal a wealth of detail about people’s personal lives,” according to a court filing by technology companies including Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp., Verizon Communications Inc., Twitter Inc. and Google Inc. “Users of digital technologies reasonably expect to retain significant privacy in that data.”

Armed Robberies

The high court case involves Timothy Ivory Carpenter, who is seeking to overturn his conviction for taking part in a string of armed robberies of Detroit-area Radio Shacks and, ironically, stores for wireless provider T-Mobile US Inc.

At trial, prosecutors used four months of data obtained from Carpenter’s wireless carriers to show he was within a half-mile to two miles of the location of four of the robberies when they occurred. Mobile-phone companies typically keep records that show the cell sites where their customers’ calls begin and end.

Prosecutors in most of the country can get that data without a warrant through the 1986 Stored Communications Act. That law says prosecutors need only have “reasonable grounds” to believe the information would be useful in an investigation. A court warrant would require a stronger showing of “probable cause.”

A federal appeals court upheld Carpenter’s conviction, rejecting his argument that the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment required prosecutors to get a warrant. The Fourth Amendment bars unreasonable searches.

Fourth Amendment

The Trump administration says the appeals court got it right, pointing to a 1979 Supreme Court decision involving the phone numbers a person dials. The court said those numbers aren’t constitutionally protected because the caller has already provided them to a third party — that is, the phone company.

“This court has long held that an individual cannot invoke the Fourth Amendment to object to the government’s acquisition of a third party’s records that contain information about the individual,” U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued in court papers.

Carpenter says that reasoning shouldn’t apply to digital privacy given the vast amounts of data at stake — 186 pages of location records in his case. That information is “orders of magnitude more granular and revealing” than the dialed numbers at issue in the 1979 case, Carpenter’s lawyers said.

His allies say the privacy dangers are still growing. Newer technology allows phones to be pinpointed to within 50 meters, privacy advocates led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation argue in court papers.

Wary of Technology

The Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has shown itself to be wary of technology and its privacy implications. In 2012, the high court put limits on the power of police to attach tracking devices to cars.

Two years later, the court said the Fourth Amendment generally requires police to get a warrant before searching the phone of someone who is being arrested. Writing for the court, Roberts pointed to the trove of information carried by modern phones.

“It is no exaggeration to say that many of the more than 90 percent of American adults who own a cell phone keep on their person a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives — from the mundane to the intimate,” Roberts wrote.

Although both rulings were unanimous, they revealed fault lines that could prove important in the Carpenter case. Writing separately in the 2014 case, Justice Samuel Alito said he might defer to Congress if it enacted legislation that balanced privacy interests with law enforcement needs.

Responding to Changes

“Legislatures, elected by the people, are in a better position than we are to assess and respond to the changes that have already occurred and those that almost certainly will take place in the future,” Alito wrote.

A key question in the Carpenter case is how much deference the court should give the Stored Communications Act, a measure enacted more than two decades before the first iPhone was sold.
A ruling that holds government officials to a higher standard could be especially important in cases involving narcotics and firearms. Those prosecutions commonly rely on location data, said Hanley Chew, a former federal prosecutor who now represents technology companies at the law firm Fenwick & West.

“It’s going to require law enforcement to do more investigating before they go to court for cell-site information,” Chew said. “As a result of that, it might slow down some investigations.”

The court will rule by June in the case, Carpenter v. United States, 16-402.

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NHS Hospitals Told To Swallow Stronger Anti-Ransomware Medication

September 13, 2016

NHS Digital is set to start expanding the range of cybersecurity services available to UK hospitals and clinics.
CareCERT (Care Computer Emergency Response Team) launched in November 2015, offering a national service that helps health and care organisations to improve their cybersecurity defences by providing proactive advice and guidance about the latest threats and security best practices.
A service that initially focused on pushing out alerts about threats will be expanded to include three new services, each of which begins testing this month:
• CareCERT Knowledge – a new e-learning portal to help all health and care organisations train their staff in cybersecurity basics.
• CareCERT Assure – a service to help organisations assess their local cybersecurity measures against industry standards, including recommendations on how to reduce vulnerabilities.
• CareCERT React – advice on reducing the impact of a data security incident.
Public health and innovation minister Nicola Blackwood announced the expansion at the Health and Care Innovation Expo on Thursday. The rollouts come at a time of increasing security threats to UK hospitals and clinics, particularly from file-encrypting ransomware.
Almost half (47 per cent) of NHS trusts have been subject to a ransomware attack in the past year, according to figures from a freedom of information (FOI) request published last month. NCC Group’s FOI is based on requests to 60 trusts, 28 of which confirmed they had been victims of ransomware.
Independent infosec consultant Brian Honan, the founder and head of Ireland’s CERT, told El Reg that the increase in security services ought to be considered as a move to drive security improvements in UK hospitals in general, rather than a specific response to the ransomware threat.
“I do not see this as a reaction to ransomware as a recent FOI request submitted by Channel 4 showed that out of 152 NHS Trusts 39 were affected by ransomware,” Honan explained. “However, with the rising number of threats against computer systems this is a welcome and prudent move to enhance the security of the data, computers, systems, and networks the NHS increasingly relies on to provide its services.”

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With Ransomware On The Rise What Can You Do To Protect Yourself From Ransomware Attack

June 20, 2016

The recent attacks on hospitals across the world affecting hundreds of thousands patients information globally obtained by hackers emphasize the scale of the issue. The ever rising trend of cyber-attacks on healthcare with ransomware happens mainly through phishing email and the reason being is underestimated importance of cybersecurity measures to be taken in the healthcare industry.
In the instance of Wyoming Medical Centre cyber-attack through email scam the damage involved exposure of nearly 3,300 patient’s sensitive information. The attack performed through legitimate looking phishing email to which employee have responded, and thus letting hackers an access to Hospital network enabled them to obtain patients personal information as names, contact details, health insurance details, social security numbers and other sensitive data that may cause harm if landed in wrong hands.
Based on the scenarios of recent attacks on healthcare establishments, InfoSec industry suggests in the average several crucial tips to follow to prevent corporate email network from being a victim of a phishing scam:
1. If you received excel or other files instructing you to enable some options like macros to be able to view the so called “important information” – do not do it.
2. NEVER provide your password to anyone via email
3. If you are a Healthcare Establishment – use only HIPAA compliant email service (ShazzleMD is one of them and provides an easy solution, no password required and works like any other email)
Be suspicious of any email that:
4. Requests personal information.
5. Contains spelling and grammatical errors.
6. Asks you to click on a link.
7. Is unexpected or from a company or organization with whom you do not have a relationship.
If you are suspicious of an email:
8. Do not click on the links provided in the email.
9. Do not open any attachments in the email.
10. Do not provide personal information or financial data.
11. Do forward the email to the HHS Computer Security Incident Response Center (CSIRC) at csirc@hhs.gov and then delete it from your Inbox.
12. Although HHS’ CSIRC undoubtedly does not want a barrage of emails from non-government entity staff reporting potential phishing attacks, a covered entity or business associate should articulate a similar process for staff to follow when a suspicious email is identified.
Be suspicious of any email that:
13. Includes multiple other recipients in the “to” or “cc” fields.
14. Displays a suspicious “from” address, such as a foreign URL for a U.S. company or a Gmail or other “disposable” address for a business sender. However, even when the sender’s address looks legitimate, it can still be “spoofed” or falsified by a malicious sender.
Following the above mentioned tips will increase cyber security of a healthcare network, and not only, from a ransomware attack performed via phishing emails that are increasing with high tempo every month.

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