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Vulnerabilities / Threats

8/17/2007
05:55 AM
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A Cautionary Tale

Verus saga offers some scary lessons about outsourcing and security

1:55 PM -- If you think a single security mistake can't cost you your job, think again. If you think all IT outsourcing services have pretty much the same security expertise, think even harder.

A single story this week provides a cautionary tale in both of these areas. In fact, the saga of Verus shows just how quickly things can go bad for an outsourcer -- and its clients -- when strict attention isn't paid to security issues. (See Medical IT Contractor Folds After Breaches.)

Just a few months ago, Verus was (for all appearances) a happy contractor, providing Website management services to around 50 major hospitals across the country. Its content management and hosting services were going so well that it introduced a new service that allowed hospital patients and partners to do online bill payment.

Then, in May, something went wrong. While transferring data between servers during a maintenance procedure, Verus employees somehow managed to turn of their firewall. And all of the patient data of Verus's online billing service clients -- at least five hospitals and approximately 100,000 patients -- was left exposed to the world.

The hospitals reported the breaches as separate incidents, so the nature of Verus's error wasn't immediately apparent. But it seems Verus saw the writing on the wall, as each hospital instantly terminated its contract with the company.

Nobody's exactly sure what happened then -- including the outsourcer that inherited Verus's customers -- but at some point, Verus simply closed its doors, turned off its phones, and shut down its Website. The company simply disappeared. Nobody even left a note.

Did that single security mistake put Verus out of business in a matter of weeks? There's no way to know for sure, unless we can find a former Verus employee who's willing to be interviewed. But it can't be coincidental that the company closed its doors just weeks after the error was disclosed and its contracts were terminated. Some IT folks screwed up in May, and by the end of July, there was nothing left except a recorded message on Verus's central number.

This sad tale is also a warning to enterprises that outsource any part of their business that involves sensitive data: Be sure you know the company you're hiring. Those five hospitals -- and perhaps others -- are now left holding the bag with patient data left in the clear and no Verus employees left to consult.

It all goes to show that when it comes to sensitive data -- or choosing a service provider -- one wrong move can cost you dearly. That's a lesson you don't want to learn the hard way.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

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