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Northern Virginia Doctor Becomes Victim of a Hack

A dermatology office in Reston recently reported that their computer system was hacked, and over 13,000 patient records were compromised. The patients have all been notified, but it makes me wonder – is this unusual? And why on earth would someone want to hack the records of a dermatology office, anyway?

Turns out, it is not just Reston, and it’s NOT unusual. In fact, there are not one but TWO main reasons such hacks are increasingly common. The first, which seems to be behind the Reston hack, is called “ransomware.” Criminal hackers access a medical provider’s system and encrypt the data, forcing the provider to pay a ransom to restore their system. In March, 2016, Georgetown Medstar was crippled by a similar attack.

The other reason for an increase in medical system hacking seems to be even more troubling to patients: your medical data is valuable. In fact, the Washington Post cited a study showing that a complete set of health insurance credentials sold for $20 in underground markets back in 2013. When hackers are stealing thousands or tens of thousands or records, or more – that’s a lucrative hack!

Your Medical Records Could Be Held for Ransom

Theft of your medical records leaves you vulnerable to identity theft, blackmail (if there’s something in your record you want to keep private), fraud (if thieves use your information to obtain prescription drugs) and more. Medical data includes your social security number. We all know it’s important to change our credit card number if that gets compromised. Changing your social security number is possible if you are a victim of identity theft, but I imagine it is about 100 times the hassle!

A Small Doctor's Office May Not Be Prepared to Handle a Hack

And yet doctor’s offices often aren’t focused on protecting their systems the way large retailers have become. Maybe that will change now that they realize they, just like the dermatology office in Reston, are being targeted. As a patient, you should ask your providers how they maintain the security of your records. Expect a good answer. Promoting health and well-being has become about more than just taking care of YOU – it means taking care of your important medical record data, too.

Ben Glass
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Ben Glass is a nationally recognized car accident and ERISA disability attorney in Fairfax, VA.