8 Million Virginia Patient Records for $10 Million

I’m not sure how many of my readers have heard about the Virginia Prescription Monitoring Program being hacked yesterday. The Prescription Monitoring Program is used by pharmacists and others to discover prescription drug abuse. The story gets really interesting since it looks like the hackers encrypted over 8 million patient records and over 35 million prescriptions. Then, the hackers posted the following note on the Virginia Prescription Monitoring Program website (according to wikileaks):

“I have your [expletive] In *my* possession, right now, are 8,257,378 patient records and a total of 35,548,087 prescriptions. Also, I made an encrypted backup and deleted the original. Unfortunately for Virginia, their backups seem to have gone missing, too. Uhoh :(For $10 million, I will gladly send along the password.”

The website has now been entirely disabled and just times out if you try to visit the site.

The Washington Post blog has reported the following:

Sandra Whitley Ryals, director of Virginia’s Department of Health Professions, declined to discuss details of the hacker’s claims, and referred inquires to the FBI.

“There is a criminal investigation under way by federal and state authorities, and we take the information security very serious,” she said.

A spokesman for the FBI declined to confirm or deny that the agency may be investigating.

Whitley Ryals said the state discovered the intrusion on April 30, after which time it shut down Web site site access to dozens of pages serving the Department of Health Professions. The state also has temporarily discontinued e-mail to and from the department pending the outcome of a security audit, Whitley Ryals said.

“We do have some of systems restored, but we’re being very careful in working with experts and authorities to take essential steps as we proceed forward,” she said. “Only when the experts tell us that these systems are safe and secure for being live and interactive will that restoration be complete.”

Seems interesting that 5 days after they discovered the intrusion the website is still not back online. Must have been a pretty serious hack job.

The Washington Post also explained that this is the second such extortion attack using patient health care data.

In October 2008, Express Scripts, one of the nation’s largest processors of pharmacy prescriptions, disclosed that extortionists were threatening to disclose personal and medical information on millions of Americans if the company failed to meet payment demands. Express Scripts is currently offering a $1 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) responsible for trying to extort money from the company.

Stories like this will set back any sort of RHIO or national HIE movement. Sure makes you think about the security of it all. What is interesting is that the patient data doesn’t seem to have much value outside of extortion. Otherwise, I’d think those who breached the system would have used it in some other way.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.

4 Comments

  • This smells like an inside job. How many hackers know about this site or even what kind of info or how it is stored? The hack into the app server and or the database location show systematic weakness, not just a good krack program. Like you said, if it was just some guy, then they would try to sell it as a some id theft thing.

  • Jeremy,
    I couldn’t agree more. Sure smells of an inside job. Far too many details and too well coordinated between the website and the data.

    Sadly, the inside jobs are the most common cases of “hacking” a system.

  • Re: Patient data
    Do these DBs contain the patient’s home address? One thing came to mind after reading this. If the information were to fall into the wrong hands, imagine a sudden crime-wave of break-ins where controlled substances are the target?
    Thank heaven for War on Drugs !?!?!?!?

  • I don’t remember seeing which pieces of data were actually compromised, but it’s very possible it was the patient’s home address.

    Could be a crime wave like that, but computer hackers aren’t really like that usually. They’d rather do it all virtually running up huge sums of money on fake credit cards created with that information. At least that’s what I read;-)

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