NY Attorney General Announces Settlement After Website Data Breach
In late May, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced a $200,000 settlement agreement with Filters Fast, an online water filtration retailer, stemming from a 2019 data breach compromising the personal information of over 300,000 consumers across the U.S., including nearly 17,000 in New York state. The settlement also requires the online retailer to strengthen its cybersecurity policies and procedures.
The settlement was the result of an enforcement action brought by the State AG under New York’s Stop Hacks and Improve Electronic Data Security Act (SHIELD Act). See our SHIELD Act FAQs here. The SHIELD Act was enacted in 2019 with the goal of strengthening protection for New York residents against data breaches affecting their private information. The Act imposes expansive data security obligations and updated the State’s existing data breach notification requirements.
The Filters Fast breach affected the names, billing addresses, and credit card expiration dates and security codes of customers who purchased products on the Company’s website for nearly a year, between July 2019 – July 2020. Filters Fast was first made aware of the breach in February 2020, but after conducting an internal investigation concluded that a breach had not occurred. After receiving several additional reports of compromised data, however, the Company’s internal investigator concluded in late July of 2020 that a breach had in fact occurred, and the website was patched. On August 14th 2020 – over a year after the breach had initially occurred, and approximately six months after the Company first became aware of it – notification of the breach was sent to affected customers.
“New Yorkers should never have to worry that their personal information will be attacked during a routine online checkout process,” said Attorney General James in her announcement of the settlement. “Online information security has been especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which New Yorkers have increasingly relied on online retailers, such as Filters Fast, to purchase basic household goods. My office is committed to protecting consumers, which is why we will continue to use every available tool to hold companies accountable when they fail to safeguard personal information.”
In addition to the settlement payment, the AG’s agreement with Fast Filters requires several improvements to the company’s policies and procedures to help prevent future data security incidents, such as:
Creating a comprehensive information security program that includes regular updates to keep pace with changes in technology and security threats, as well as regular reporting to the company’s CEO concerning security risks;
Designing an incident response and data breach notification plan that encompasses preparation, detection and analysis, containment, eradication, and recovery;
Adopting personal information safeguards and controls — including encryption, segmentation, penetration testing, logging and monitoring, virus protection policy, custom application code change reviews, authentication policy and procedures, management of service providers, and patch management; and
Ensuring that third-party security assessments take place over the next five years.
The SHIELD Act is far-reaching: it affects any business that holds private information of a New York resident — regardless of whether the organization does business in New York, and including small businesses. Under the Act, individuals and businesses that collect computerized data, including private information about New York residents, must implement and maintain reasonable administrative, physical and technical safeguards. The Act provides several safeguards which may be implemented to ensure compliance.
Data privacy and security risks continue to emerge with enforcement not far behind. Regardless of their location, organizations should be assessing and reviewing their data breach prevention and response activities, building robust data protection programs, and investing in written information security programs (WISPs).