The stolen laptop contained personal data on nearly every physician in the country.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

October 15, 2009

2 Min Read

The theft of a laptop belonging to an employee of an insurance trade group has put hundreds of thousands of physician around the country at risk of identity theft.

The laptop, belonging to an employee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), was stolen from a car in late August, according to reports in the Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune. It contained a database listing the business and personal information of about 800,000 doctors.

There were about 732,000 practicing physicians in the U.S. at the end of 2007, according to a spokesperson for the American Medical Association.

The BCBSA, which represents various Blue Cross health groups across the U.S., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for the American Medical Association confirmed that the organization had been warning physicians about the breach.

"The AMA is advising physicians to be on guard for potential identify theft as a result of a breach of physician personal data at BlueCross BlueShield Association (BCBSA)," said AMA President J. James Rohack, M.D. in an statement. "The AMA has met with BCBSA to express our concerns and learn what steps are being taken to protect physicians in the wake of this information breach."

Rohack said that BlueCross Blue Shield Plans will offer credit monitoring services to affected physcians and he urged doctors to keep an eye out for fraud arising from the breach. He said that the AMA is working with BCBSA to decide on additional steps that can be taking to mitigate the risk of identity theft.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association reportedly told the Tribune that the employee in question had violated corporate policy by transferring the data to a personal laptop. According to the Globe's account, Blue Cross-Blue Shield maintains the data in encrypted form on its servers, but the employee copied the data after it had been decrypted.

Only a portion of the physician records in the database -- 16% to 20% -- on the stolen laptop include a social security number as an identifier. No patient data is believed to be involved.

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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