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The White House’s “Progress” Report on Cybersecurity: There’s A Long Road Ahead

Lest one question the severity of the evolving challenges in our rapidly growing cyber world, President Obama has crystallized it succinctly: (1) “cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation;” and (2) “America’s economic prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cybersecurity.” In other words, President Obama has declared cybersecurity to be a national security priority.

While that’s obviously good news, the follow-up question is “how are we doing in meeting the associated demands?” Regrettably, not so well, it seems.

Speaking before cybersecurity and privacy experts from government, law enforcement, the private sector, academia and privacy and civil liberties groups, President Obama, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Cyber Coordinator Howard Schmidt and other Administration officials uniformly acknowledged that far more work needs to be done to protect digital communications and information infrastructure and make it more difficult and costly for cybercrimimals.

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Immigration Enforcement’s New Target: Counterfeit Movies and Shows

Apparently feeling that they’ve resolved the longstanding issue of illegal immigration and can move on to the next crisis, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) and the U.S. Justice Department have identified a new enemy in their ongoing stuggle to protect truth, justice and the American way: Internet sites that sell counterfeit goods and pirated movies.

Indeed, just this month, government officials announced that they have shut down nine websites as part of their newly announced initiative, “Operation In Our Sites,” which is intended to protect Hollywood’s intellectual property. Officials estimated that nearly 7 million pirated movies and shows per month were downloaded from the offending websites.

The announcement was held on a soundstage at The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA. Neither Johnny Depp nor Captain Hook reportedly was present.

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Credit Card Hackers’ Favorite Target…Hotels.

We’ve all heard the story of the clerk at the local gas station who was double-swiping credit cards in order to make fraudulent copies. Online banking, restaurants, clothing retailers…every industry is potentially a target. Yet the industry that was the subject of more credit card thefts than any other sector in 2009? Hotels.

To the point, SpiderLabs (an affiliate of Trustwave, a data-security consulting firm) has published a study which reports that 38% of the credit card hacking events in 2009 involved the hospitality industry. Over one-third of all thefts of credit card numbers occurred at hotels. Much to my surprise, given the wealth of reporting on the subject, the financial services industry lagged well behind at a comparatively minor 19%. Retail followed at 14.2% while restaurants and bars were fourth at 13%.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, though, as my own credit card number was stolen several years back while i was staying at a business travelers’ hotel in New York City. I had gone to the City for a Cinco de Mayo event sponsored by a major international insurer. Several days later, I received a call from my credit card company asking if I had bought gasoline on Long Island or a $5000 television at a big box retailer. While I do buy gasoline, I hadn’t been on Long Island. And while I certainly would have loved a $5000 television (or, for economy’s sake, something less pricey), I hadn’t bought that either. The conclusion was simple: my credit card number had been stolen when I used it at the New York hotel.

So, why hotels? According to security analysts, they’re generally easy targets. The large chain hotels may employ sophisticated security technology or other protections. Or they may not. In either case, how about smaller or private owned, non-chain hotels? The next time you check into a hotel, ask what security methods they use to protect credit card information. You probably won’t like the answer. The credit card number that you provide at check-in may sit in a folder or a file maintained right at the front desk. Who would prevent someone from simply lifting the file? Especially in the middle of the night. The single desk clerk on overnight duty?

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Cyberinquirer Nominated As One of the Top 50 Insurance Blogs for 2009

We are pleased to announce that Cyberinquirer has been nominated by LexisNexis’s Insurance Law Community Staff as one of the Top 50 Insurance Blogs for 2009. According to the LexisNexis site, “When [LexisNexis] considers a blog for membership in ILC’s annual Top 50, we look for frequent posts, timely topics, and quality writing. Only the best may gain admission. Our readers have come to expect nothing less, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The comment period for nominations closes on July 9. Once the nominees have been set, LexisNexis will open a voting period of undisclosed length. Needless to say, Pamela and I are thrilled to have been considered, and we hope we continue to meet the standard described by LexisNexis’s assessment of the Top 50 Blogs. One of our important aims is to promote recognition of the enhanced exposures and liabilities inherent in a technological society and the role of cyber/tech insurance products. Again, thank you to our readers and members for your support!

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Pulling the Plug on Cyberbullies: Should Schools be Responsible for Sticks and Stones Thrown in Cyberspace?

His name is Ghyslain Raza, but you may know of him as “Star Wars Kid”, a portly 15-year-old student at a Quebec private high school who had filmed himself wielding a mock light saber, pretending to be a Star Wars character in combat. The two-minute video was supposed to be private, but he left it lying around at his school where three students, who did not know the teenager, came across the video, posted it on the Internet on April 14, 2003, adding a message inviting people to make insulting remarks about the clip.

Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t just his friends who found the footage so amusing. The video went ‘viral’. One Web log that posted the video was allegedly downloaded 1.1 million times, and by October 2004 one Internet site dedicated to the video had recorded 76 million visits. According to UK marketing firm The Viral Factory, it became the most downloaded video of 2006. So mortified was the teenager that he dropped out of school and finished the semester at a psychiatric ward. According to the student, “It was simply unbearable, totally. It was impossible to attend class.” More than 35 other revised versions of the video clip, created by other people, have found their way to the Internet, with additional sound and visual effects.

This is an extreme but far from unique example of the devastation wrought by cyber-bullying, the term given to internet conduct in which students harass other students by e-mail and on the internet. Given the potentially devastating consequences of cyberbullying, should schools have the power to discipline their students engaging in this form of harmful conduct?

A major issue confronting school boards is that cyberbullying usually does not take place at school, although its effects can later reverberate among students during school hours. Students may post offensive material from home, or other times outside of school hours, but the targets are fellow classmates. Is it appropriate for a school board to discipline a student for posting such material simply because the postings are being accessed by other students at school or target other students? At the same time, with power comes responsibility – if school boards have the power to discipline students for their behavior outside of school, are schools then to be mandated with the responsibility to essentially monitor and censor the world-wide web? Just how far should a school board’s jurisdiction extend regarding inappropriate off-school student e-conduct?

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