8/27/2013
02:21 PM
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4 Million Patients At Risk After Computer Theft From Chicago Medical Group

Unencrypted Social Security numbers, names, addresses, health insurance information potentially exposed in major HIPAA violation



Thieves broke into an office of the largest health system in Illinois last month and stole four unencrypted computers that contained personal information -- including Social Security numbers and health insurance information -- of 4.03 million patients. An administrative office of Advocate Medical Group was burglarized, according to the health care organization, and a criminal investigation is under way.

The break-in occurred at an Advocate Medical Group administrative office in Park Ridge on July 15; the stolen computers included the names, addresses, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers of patients, as well as some clinical data, including their physicians, diagnoses, medical record numbers, medical service codes, and health insurance data. Advocate Medical Group says no patient medical records were stored on the stolen machines.

"The most important thing is that this issue has no impact on patient care," said Kevin McCune, M.D., chief medical officer at Advocate Medical Group. "Security is a top priority for our health care ministry. Nothing leads us to believe that the computers were taken for the information they contained or that any patient information has been used inappropriately."

The incident marks one of the biggest health care breaches yet with the number of patients whose information has been exposed, according to Bill Barr, a development coordinator with the newly formed Medical Identity Theft Alliance (MIFA) and co-founder of the Smart Card Forum.

"It appears that it was just some computers behind locked doors that were [reportedly] password-protected. That's not the strongest security people should be [employing]," Barr says.

Even more chilling is that the thieves now have a treasure trove of medical identification that could be rolled into medical ID theft "kitz" sold in underground forums, according to Barr. "They've got all of the information they need ... to put together 4 million kitz," he says. "To me, that's a very serious situation."

These medical ID kitz typically include bank account credentials, Social Security numbers, health insurance credentials, and phony driver's licenses or other IDs, and sell for $1,200 to $1,300, according to Dell SecureWorks, which recently uncovered some of these scams.

Advocate Medical Group has notified patients whose data was stored on the stolen machines, and is offering free credit monitoring and ID theft protection. The organization also is beefing up physical security at the burglarized location, with round-the-clock security, and considering doing the same at other locations. "We have reinforced our security protocols and encryption program with associates," the company said in its disclosure notice about the breach.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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