Call center employee attempts to extort German health insurer

Die Krankheitskarte web site reports:

German health insurance company (or rather: sickness fund) “BKK Gesundheit” was eager to outsource its telephone hotline to a virtual call center. In their home offices, the untrained workers then could retrieve data they weren’t allowed to see, including medical diagnoses. They all had access to „an unneccessary huge amount of data“.

How was this uncovered? A former member of staff wanted to press money from the fund…

Dr. Ewald Proll, who posted the entry [original in German, here], was kind enough to translate and elaborate on the story for

The insurer, BKK Gesundheit, is the largest of a subgroup of German health insurance funds with about 1.5 million members. BKK Gesundheit had contracted with MediaKom Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, which, in turn, contracted with Value 5 HealthCare GmbH to provide a 24-hour call service for their insured members.

The “call centers,” however were actually home offices from which the untrained staff could remotely log in to the insurer’s database and where — seemingly due to inadequate security — they could access more information than necessary for their job. Although the staff reportedly could not copy, print, or download the information in the database, it may have been possible for them to take and store screenshots of members’ records that included diagnostic information.

According to published sources, an employee of Value 5 HealthCare GmbH  attempted to extort the insurance fund, threatening to the publish the sensitive health information if the company didn’t pay. The insurer did not pay the extortion and referred the matter to legal authorities while securing the database from further access.

The story was uncovered by a TV team.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, fines or actions Germany takes over this breach.  Certainly any attempt to extort a health insurer with threats of releasing confidential or what should be protected health information is a criminal matter, but what about the insurer’s actions in contracting and subcontracting with staff where there may not have been adequate security protections?   Under Germany’s data protection laws, they might be subject to some consequences.

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