20 September 2007

A Defensible Standard of Care: Six Million Reasons...

There are 6,000,000 reasons why Operational Risk at TD Ameritrade is in the Red Zone this week as a result of what seems to be a case of malicious code discovered last week, or over a year ago.

This author received a recent letter from TD Ameritrade regarding their so called pseudo "breach". And we quote:

"While investigating client reports about the industry-wide issue of investment-related SPAM, we recently discovered and eliminated unauthorized code from our systems. This code allowed certain information stored in one of our databases, including email addresses, to be retrieved by an external source."

What is absolutely amazing is the request to visit www.amtd.com for more information and a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and an additional message from me, (The CEO Joe Moglia). The link to this message requires you to run Windows Media Player for what must be a sincere apology. However, the PR department must not know how many malicious code exploits are associated with .wmv files. Nor, how many people still do not have broadband connections as a consumer.

But that is not even the most fascinating aspect of this whole incident. The story gets even more disturbing if it is indeed true:

Scott Kamber of Kamber & Associates, a New York law firm that sued Sony BMG last year for its use of a rootkit, told InformationWeek on Monday that the lawsuit initially claimed that Ameritrade knew about the data breach last November. However, he says he now has information that the company knew about the ongoing breach a full year ago.

Kamber, who filed the suit this past May, had recently filed a preliminary injunction asking the court to compel Ameritrade to disclose the data breach and the compromised information to current and prospective customers. The company was given a two-week adjournment and made the public announcement during that recess.

"I am glad customers finally know of the compromise of their personal information," said Kamber. "I'm not pleased it took the company so long to do that."

Hillyer said she could not comment on ongoing litigation but said, "As soon as we discovered it, we stopped it. And as soon as we had gathered enough information, we notified our clients."

Ameritrade notified the FBI and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last week, according to the spokeswoman.

It's apparent that the nexus of Information Security, Digital Forensics, eDiscovery, Legal Risk and Reputation Management have imploded in Bellevue, NE yet this will not be the last place we hear about this kind of incident. If a Rootkit is on a server there, you can be sure that there are others at a another broker or investment management firm near you.

Being vigilant about protecting privacy and doing the right thing with customers in the event of a breach has significant legal ramifications, that is for certain. What is less known at this point are the processes and corporate behavior that could be even more of a source of liability for TD Ameritrade. Who what how and why is now under investigation and will play out in a court room again soon.

The degree that any firm in the industry is "Litigation Ready" or has adequately prepared for this particular nexus between the elements of Information Security and the Law will determine the amount of Operational Risk they are potentially exposed to in incidents like this one. How can any firm prepare for an event similar to this?

1. Conduct a Litigation Readiness Audit of the firm.

2. Develop a strategic plan for achieving a "Defensible Standard of Care."

3. Train the stakeholders on Crisis, Command and Control.

4. Implement an early warning data analytics system to preempt potential threats.

Number four on this list pertains to something that is also in the authors letter. "As part of our effort to protect privacy, we have hired ID Analytics, which specializes in identity risk, to investigate and monitor potential identity theft." Let's just hope these guys didn't load up a CD at their shop handed over to them by TD Ameritrade with 6,000,000 records of personal identifiable information on it.

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