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New Proposed Cyber Incident Notification Rules

We first wrote about incident notification over ten years ago, and based on feedback from our cyber testing experience, financial institutions are still struggling with the issue of whether or not to notify their customers and primary regulators. The conversation often comes down, to “do we have to notify?” Some institutions may choose to notify out of an abundance of caution, but most won’t unless it’s absolutely required, as regulator notification opens the door to additional examiner scrutiny, and customer notification may result in increased reputation risk. To confuse the issue a bit more, notification requirements are currently defined differently for a regulator than for a customer. And all this is about to change!

Notification Rules Background

Financial institutions are currently required to report an event to their primary federal regulator under very specific circumstances. This requirement dates back to GLBA, Appendix B to Part 364 and states that FI incident response plans (IRPs) should contain procedures for: “Notifying its primary Federal regulator as soon as possible when the institution becomes aware of an incident involving unauthorized access to or use of sensitive customer information…”

Customer notification guidance is very similar. Institutions should provide notice to their customers as soon as possible: “If the institution determines that misuse of its information about a customer has occurred or is reasonably possible.” (It’s important to note here that a strict interpretation of “…access to or use of…” would generally not include a denial of access (DDoS) type of attack or a ransomware attack that locks files in place. We suggest modifying the language of “misuse” to “…access to, denial of access to, or use of…”.)

Announcement of New Proposed Notification Rules

Late last year the FDIC issued a joint press release with the OCC and the Federal Reserve1 announcing the proposed changes. The working title is a mouthful: Computer-Security Incident Notification Requirements for Banking Organizations and Their Bank Service Providers. As is the case for all new regulations, the proposed notification rules were first published in the Federal Register, which started the clock on a 90 day comment period that ended on April 12 of this year. When (or if) the rules will become law will depend on how long it takes regulators to compile, digest, and reconcile the comments received, which can take as long as 6 months to a year from the end of the comment period.

3 Key Terms of the New Regulator Notification Rule

One of the new rules “…would require a banking organization to provide its primary federal regulator with prompt notification of any computer-security incident that rises to the level of a notification incident.” There are actually three terms we need to understand here: a computer security incident, a significant security incident, and a notification incident.

A computer security incident could be anything from a non-malicious hardware or software failure or the unintentional actions of an employee to something malicious and possibly criminal in nature. Computer security incidents are those that:

  • Result in actual or potential harm to the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of an information system or the information the system processes, stores, or transmits; or
  • Constitute a violation or imminent threat of violation of security policies, security procedures, or acceptable use policies.

In addition to the GLBA NPI guidance, banking organizations are already required to report certain instances of disruptive cyber-events and cyber-crimes through the filing of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) within 30 days, but no regulator notification is required unless these criteria are met. Even so, if notification is provided, the concern is that the 30-day window may not be timely enough to prevent other events.

This new rule would define a significant computer security incident as one that meets any of these criteria:

  1. Could jeopardize the viability of the operations of an individual banking organization
  2. Result in customers being unable to access their deposit and other accounts
  3. Impact the stability of the financial sector

The proposed rule refers to these significant computer security incidents as notification incidents — the two terms are synonymous, so any event that meets the above criteria would require regulator notification “as soon as possible”, and no later than 36 hours after you’ve determined that a notification event has occurred.

We’ll see what the final rules look like, but at the moment there are no proposed changes to the customer notification requirements.

New Third-Party Expectations

In addition to FI notification changes, there will also be new expectations for third-party service providers, like core providers and significant technology service providers (as defined in the BSCA). Because these vendors are “…also are vulnerable to cyber threats, which have the potential to disrupt, degrade, or impair the provision of banking services to their banking organization customers,” it would require a service-provider to “…notify at least two individuals at affected banking organization customers immediately after experiencing a computer-security incident that it believes in good faith could disrupt, degrade, or impair services provided subject to the BSCA for four or more hours.” Presumably, if you are notified by a third party that an event has occurred, and the event has or is likely to result in your customers being unable to access their accounts, you would also be required to report to your regulator.

Reviewing the submitted comments, there are still many questions to be answered and terms to be clarified, but with cybersecurity dominating the news recently we can definitely count on regulatory changes to the “do we have to notify?” discussion coming fairly soon.

1 As of this date the NCUA has not signed off on these proposed rules changes, although they may at some point.