The Securities and Exchange Commission said Wednesday that a Des Moines-based broker-dealer and investment advisor has agreed to pay $1 million to settle charges for cybersecurity failures that led to a cyber intrusion that compromised thousands of customers’ personal information.
The SEC charged Voya Financial Advisors Inc. with violating Regulation S-P or the Safeguards Rule and the Identity Theft Red Flags Rule, which are designed to protect confidential customer information and protect customers from the risk of identity theft.
VFA failed to adopt written policies and procedures reasonably designed to protect customer records and information, as well as failing to develop and implement a written Identity Theft Prevention Program, the SEC states.
This is the first SEC enforcement action charging violations of the Identity Theft Red Flags Rule, the securities regulator said.
“This case is a reminder to brokers and investment advisors that cybersecurity procedures must be reasonably designed to fit their specific business models,” said Robert Cohen, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Cyber Unit. “They also must review and update the procedures regularly to respond to changes in the risks they face.”
According to the SEC order, VFA gave its independent contractor representatives access to its brokerage customer and advisory client information through a proprietary web portal.
“Through the portal, the contractor representatives accessed the personally identifiable information of VFA customers and managed the customers’ brokerage accounts,” the order states.
The portal was serviced and maintained by VFA’s parent company, Voya Financial Inc.
The cyber intruders impersonated VFA contractors over a six-day period in 2016 by calling VFA’s support line and requesting that the contractors’ passwords be reset, the SEC states.
The intruders used the new passwords to gain access to the personal information of 5,600 VFA customers.
The SEC’s order finds that the intruders then used the customer information to create new online customer profiles and obtain unauthorized access to account documents for three customers.
The order also finds that VFA’s failure to terminate the intruders’ access stemmed from weaknesses in its cybersecurity procedures, some of which had been exposed during prior similar fraudulent activity. According to the order, VFA also failed to apply its procedures to the systems used by its independent contractors, who make up the largest part of VFA’s workforce.
“Customers entrust both their money and their personal information to their brokers and investment advisors,” said Stephanie Avakian, co-director of the SEC Enforcement Division. “VFA failed in its obligations when its deficiencies made it vulnerable to cyber intruders accessing the confidential information of thousands of its customers.”
Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, VFA agreed to be censured and pay a $1 million penalty, and will retain an independent consultant to evaluate its policies and procedures for compliance with the Safeguards Rule and Identity Theft Red Flags Rule and related regulations.