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Risk

11/7/2008
12:00 AM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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The Worst Way To Learn Of A Data Breach

While there's no welcomed way to learn that your customer data has been compromised, perhaps the worst way is to learn via an extortion letter. Pay up, or we'll expose millions of patient records, threatens a letter to Express Scripts.

While there's no welcomed way to learn that your customer data has been compromised, perhaps the worst way is to learn via an extortion letter. Pay up, or we'll expose millions of patient records, threatens a letter to Express Scripts.Pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts said today that is was the recipient of an extortion letter that threatened to expose millions of patient files and warned of a potentially very large breach.

While data breaches and online extortion aren't new, the combination of the two is extremely rare. And the few extortion stories I've written involved denial-of-service attacks.

Writes Reuters' Lewis Krauskopf:

The St. Louis-based company, which handles about 500 million prescriptions a year, said it is also conducting its own investigation with the help of outside experts in data security and computer forensics.

Express Scripts spokesman Steve Littlejohn said the company delayed publicizing the letter to allow the investigation to take shape, but it had now reached a stage where the company wanted to make it public.

Chief Executive Officer George Paz called the threat "outrageous" and said the company was taking it "very seriously."

The rest of the story continues with the cursory "we take many precautions" to secure customer data. The company made it clear that the FBI is on the case. Hopefully, the authorities find these crooks, but the ease at which attackers can obfuscate their tracks online makes that a tough outcome to achieve. Not to mention the current convoluted state of international cybersecurity laws that makes extradition tricky in many parts of the world.

What struck me about this story is that just today, before reading the article, I was having a conversation with a CISO about how cheap Social Security numbers and consumer data are being sold online -- sometimes pennies to dollars for each record -- which indicates an oversupply of this kind of information in the black market.

Looks like criminals found a way to try to increase their profits through extortion threats. As much as I'd hate to see patient records exposed, let's hope companies refuse to pay extortionists -- an action that would certainly only work to increase these tactics.

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