GOP Committee Contractor Faces Class Data Breach Claims

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By Daniel R. Stoller

A group of Florida voters are suing Republican National Committee contractor Deep Root Analytics LLC for allegedly failing to adequately protect millions of U.S. citizens’ voter data ( McAleer v. Deep Root Analytics, LLC , M.D. Fla., No. 17-cv-01142, complaint filed 6/21/17 ).

According to the June 21 complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Arlington, Va.-based private company Deep Root failed to adequately protect the voter information of 198 million U.S. citizens and stored the information “online without a password.”

The plaintiffs, James McAleer and Linda McAleer, also allege—in what appears to be the first class action filed in response to the breach—that the third-party vendor didn’t provide proper notice to affected voters whose information “had been stolen and were still vulnerable.” They are seeking monetary damages and attorneys’ fees, as well as an order forcing Deep Root to better secure private information.

The case serves as a reminder to companies and organizations that, even with the most sophisticated data security protections, third-party vendors may be the weak link in protecting sensitive information, cybersecurity and privacy professionals told Bloomberg BNA.

Tom Kellermann, CEO of cybersecurity investment strategy company Strategic Cyber Ventures in Washington and a former member of the Commission on Cybersecurity under President Barack Obama, told Bloomberg BNA that, overall, companies must know their information supply chains and ask vendors the right questions.

Specifically, they should know if vendors have conducted network penetration tests, have an incident response plan, use two-factor authentication for critical systems, employ a breach detection system, and are willing to cooperate with law enforcement in the event of a breach, he said.

A RNC spokesman told Bloomberg BNA June 22 that it “has halted any further work with the company pending the conclusion of their investigation into security procedures.” The RNC requires its third-party vendors to take “the security of voter information very seriously,” the spokesman said.

Representatives for Deep Root didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA’s email request for comment.

Data Security Incident

The voter data breach, first discovered by UpGuard Inc., compromised a repository of the personal details and political stances of U.S. citizens, the company said in a statement. It attributed the breach to “a misconfigured database owned by a third-party vendor hired by the RNC.”

Mike Baukes, CEO of UpGuard, previously told Bloomberg BNA that the data was exposed for 10-14 days, and it’s difficult to know who had access to it during that time.

Deep Root said June 19 that it accepted “full responsibility” for the breach. Changes to security protocols June 1 led to the voter-data access, and security settings have since been updated, the company said.

The plaintiffs asserted a negligence claim and a Florida consumer protection statute claim on behalf of a proposed class representing any U.S. citizen whose personal information was exposed and a more specific class of Florida voters whose personal data were involved in the breach.

Attorneys for Deep Root couldn’t be immediately identified. The named plaintiffs are represented by GrayRobinson PA.

Third-Party Data Security

Ari Scharg, privacy partner at Edelson PC in Chicago, told Bloomberg BNA June 22 that companies and organizations, such as the RNC, need to be “vigilant” in finding the “weak links” in their supply chains and eliminate them. Third-party vendor risks need to “become more of the corporate mindset going forward because data is one of the most valuable resources” today, he said.

Mike Fumai, president of data breach prevention company AppGuard LLC in Chantilly, Va., told Bloomberg BNA June 22 that the breach could have been prevented by following proper procedures to protect the data stored on Amazon.com Inc.'s cloud service.

Although Amazon Web Services (AWS) has “significant security protocols in place,” the third-party vendor must understand the policies, Fumai said. Additionally, companies hiring vendors should walk through the “data protection procedures” to ensure the proper protocols have been followed, he said.

If companies end up folding as a result of a class action challenge, “it’ll send a message” that proper data security protocols must be followed, Fumai said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel R. Stoller in Washington at dStoller@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald Aplin at daplin@bna.com

For More Information

Full text of the opinion is available at http://src.bna.com/p7A.

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