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Radiologists’ Server Hacked By Video Gamers

January 18, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Medical Ethics, Practice Management
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Did you hear the announcement last week by a large radiology practice in New Hampshire that hackers apparently had breached a server containing Social Security numbers and medical codes for more than 200,000 patients?

It turns out that the data are most likely safe despite the breach. The hackers apparently didn’t care about what was stored on the server. Instead, according to the practice, they were probably Scandinavian video gamers stealing bandwidth so they could play the online multiplayer version of the hot new release Call of Duty: Black Ops, a military first-person shooter game set during the Cold War.

“They wanted to hijack space for bandwidth so they could play this game,” Lisa MacKenzie, a spokeswoman for Seacoast Radiology, of Rochester, told DOTmed News. “They didn’t have any interest in this data.”

Seacoast Radiology sent out letters last Tuesday to all 231,400 potentially affected patients. The letters said that on November 12, the radiology practice discovered that someone had accessed an office server. On the server were stored patient names, phone numbers, medical diagnosis codes, procedure codes, and Social Security numbers, as well as personal information of “insurance guarantors” for some of the patients.

Radiology reports and images were not stored on the server. Nor were credit-card numbers because the practice does not accept credit cards.

Seacoast said there’s no evidence any of the information has been misused. The practice said it took two months to report the breach so it could gather all relevant information and identify potentially affected patients.

It said it’s reviewing its privacy and security programs and will “further enhance the protection of privacy and the handling of sensitive information.”

So, though Seacoast Radiology has suffered a lot of trouble and expense, it basically got lucky. Now might be a good time for all practices to check their defenses against hackers. And let’s hope no one invents a video game called Grand Theft Medical Data.

Related seminar: The Business of Radiology

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