BUSTED? A blackhat’s revenge exposes a 2-year old patient data hack that Holland Eye Surgery & Laser Center failed to disclose
A blackhat hacker known as “Lifelock” had claimed Holland Eye Surgery and Laser Center knew about his hack two years ago but failed to disclose it to patients or HHS. A follow-up investigation by DataBreaches.net uncovered evidence supporting his claim. The evidence has been turned over to federal regulators.
On June 2, DataBreaches.net reported that Holland Eye Surgery & Laser Center in Holland, Michigan had been hacked by someone who calls himself “Lifelock.” DataBreaches.net first learned of the hack in April, when Lifelock contacted this site with proof of the hack, including databases with patient data. According to statements made to this site, Lifelock had tried repeatedly – but unsuccessfully for two years – to get Holland Eye Surgery & Laser Center to pay him what he described as a fee for his “security services.” But they had not paid him, even after he had informed them that he was starting to sell some of their patients’ identity information on the dark web. Now, he claimed, he was giving up on getting any money from them, but he wanted them exposed because they had allegedly never notified their patients of the hack or that he had told them that he was selling patient data.
Knowing that this site was being gamed or used, but also believing that this site should report on breaches that put patients at risk, DataBreaches.net reached out to Holland Eye Surgery to get their response to Lifelock’s claims. Within days of me letting them know that I would be reporting on the hack, they issued a media notice about the breach. That notice indicated that they were notifying patients. The incident subsequently showed up on HHS’s breach tool, too.
In response to the publication of my story, Lifelock sent the doctors’ external counsel a list of patients whose data he claims he had sold on the dark web. He also claimed that he was going to now delete all of their patients’ data that he had acquired (his statements can be found in the “Comments” section under the previous article about this incident).
But as it turns out, that was not the end of the story. The doctors’ media notice was in obvious conflict with what Lifelock had claimed in terms of when the doctors first found out about the breach and extortion demand. As I commented in that earlier article, the doctors’ claims that they first learned of the breach in March, 2018 and that Lifelock had concealed the scope of the breach until then made no sense to me. And so I found myself believing Lifelock and not the doctors, even though Lifelock had no hard proof he could offer to back his claims.
Curiosity aroused, I kept investigating. The proof of Lifelock’s claims ultimately came from the doctors themselves.
As part of my investigation, I had filed under Freedom of Information for any reports filed with the state of Michigan about the incident, and I had also filed with the Holland Police Department, and sent an inquiry to the Mayor of Holland, Michigan.
The state of Michigan responded that they had no responsive records. The Mayor of Holland, whom Lifelock alleged had become a victim of fraud because he wanted to get her attention, did not reply at all to my inquiry. The Holland Police Department, however, provided me with a heavily-redacted report on the incident. And that’s when things got really interesting.
Although a lot of the report was redacted, perhaps the most significant aspect of the report was when it was filed. The report had been filed on July 1, 2016. So – and as Lifelock had insisted to me – Holland Eye Surgery’s doctors had known about both the hack and the extortion demand by July 1, 2016, even though in their May media notice, they would claim that they first found out in March, 2018.
The report taken by the police included a statement that the doctors reported that they had been provided with convincing data by the hacker that the hacker had obtained personal information on patients and employees. An email from the hacker, redacted from the copy of the report provided to this site, was described in the report as being several pages in length and including a statement as to how much identity information the hacker had acquired from patients and employees.
The doctors also reported that the hacker was demanding $100,000 as payment. While the amount differs from what Lifelock had claimed in communication with this site, what is significant is that on July 1, 2016 Holland Eye Surgery and Laser Center informed the police that they had received an email with evidence of a hack and an extortion demand.
The report by the police was subsequently updated after Holland Eye Surgery reported that they had received a subsequent communication from the hacker on July 6, 2016 stating that patient data would be sold on the dark web if they didn’t pay up by July 8, 2016. They didn’t pay, and they never found out what patient data might have been sold until after my first report appeared and Lifelock then sent them a list of patients whose data he claims he sold back in 2016.
But importantly, Lifelock was right: they first learned of the hack in July, 2016. They had been receiving his communications and demands, even if they did not reply to them.
So why wasn’t the hack and extortion demand reported to HHS in July, 2016?
Why wasn’t this hack reported to the patients in July, 2016?
DataBreaches.net reached out to Holland Eye Surgery & Laser Center for a statement in response to those questions and to inquire whether any patients had come forward to claim that they had become victims of fraud or identity theft after they first notified patients. Holland Eye Surgery did not reply to the inquiry.
DataBreaches.net then reached out to their external counsel at McDonald Hopkins with those questions. They, too, did not reply.
DataBreaches.net has submitted its findings to HHS/OCR with a request for investigation.
OCR generally does not investigate complaints of breaches that occur more than six months prior to a complaint, but if the breach was covered up for years, shouldn’t that be worth investigating? DataBreaches.net believes that the more than 42,000 patients who were never warned that their identity information was in the hands of a criminal deserve an explanation as to why the doctors they trusted with their protected health information never warned them after the hack. DataBreaches.net believes that patients should have been notified that the hacker was claiming to be selling patients’ identity information on the dark web so that they could take steps to protect themselves.
And DataBreaches.net also believes that OCR must take enforcement action if entities not only fail to disclose breaches but then lie in their HIPAA-required notifications about when they first learned of a breach. Coverups, if OCR determines that the term is applicable here, cannot be rewarded and need to incur severe monetary penalties.
If you were a patient at Holland Eye Surgery and Laser Center and became a victim of fraud or identity theft after July 1, 2016, please contact this site via email to [email protected] We’d love to hear your story.