As referenced in our prior Alert, cybersecurity is the critical and pressing concern of all companies, and particularly financial institutions. The Federal Reserve (December 2013), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (October 2013) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (April 2012) all have  issued directives concerning management of the risks, including cybersecurity risks, involved in third party relationships.

On April 10, 2014, in response to the recently-disclosed Heartbleed internet security flaw, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) went further, specifically advising banks and other financial institutions that it expected them to take steps to address the vulnerability. The Heartbleed “bug” is an error in the open-source code library (OpenSSL), used to implement encryption in various websites, applications and network services, including the web portals of some financial institutions. Although reported only several days ago, the Heartbleed vulnerability apparently has existed since at least December 31, 2011. The FFIEC warned that the vulnerability might allow an attacker to impersonate bank users, steal login credentials, or gain access to internal networks.

In an accompanying alert, the FFIEC advised its governed institutions to take four steps, as appropriate, to address the Heartbleed threat:

  1. ensure its third-party vendors that use OpenSSL are aware of the risk, and take steps to mitigate it;
  2. monitor the status of the vendors’ efforts;
  3. upgrade its own vulnerable internal systems and services; and
  4. follow appropriate patch management and testing practices (including those set out in existing FFIEC Examination Handbooks).

In the alert the FFIEC also advised it expected each financial institution to take steps “as soon as possible” in response to this cybersecurity threat by upgrading its systems, and by including patches on systems and applications using OpenSSL. It also urged each institution to consider replacing private encryption keys, and to “strongly consider” requiring users and administrators to change their passwords.

Our Financial Institutions, and Data Security, Privacy and Cyberliability teams work together to provide proactive practical advice to banks and other nonbank financial institutions seeking to minimize their cyberliability exposure, and we have extensive experience advising our clients on a prompt and proper response to any discovered data breaches or other cyber incidents.

For more information about the FFIEC’s alert and press release, or any other aspect of cybersecurity risks, principles, or procedures, please contact one of the authors of this alert.