Contractor error exposed Charleston Area Medical Center’s Research Institute patient data on web
Statement by Charleston Area Medical Center:
We wanted to let you know about a security incident that occurred at Charleston Area Medical Center’s Research Institute, which involved the personal information of some of our patients.
On February 8, 2011, we learned that one of our databases containing information about 3655 patients had security vulnerability. The database was constructed in September 2010, by a third party information technology contractor. It was intended to help us evaluate and treat patients in an outpatient setting, to reduce unnecessary hospitalizations.
Unfortunately, the technology contractor overlooked a vulnerability that potentially left data in one section of the database exposed if someone were to conduct an advanced Internet search. Fortunately, a family member of one the patients alerted the West Virginia Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division to the problem and that Office, in turn, alerted the CAMC Health Education and Research Institute.
All access to the database was immediately blocked. We also worked with the Internet search engines to remove any data that could have been accessible through the web, even though, other than the person who discovered the problem, we have no reason to believe anyone else improperly accessed the data base.
The database contained the names, contact details, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth of patients, along with certain basic clinical information about some of them.
The database was a separate system and was not linked to any other systems within our hospital network. As such, our other systems containing personal information were not impacted by this situation.
Although we have not identified any instances of identity theft relating to this situation, we nevertheless recognize that this can be a concern for individuals whose data may have been subject to unauthorized access. We are accordingly offering all of the patients whose data was potentially exposed a full year of credit monitoring at our cost, through one of the three national credit bureaus, Equifax.
The plan that is being offered is Equifax’s premium gold Three-in-One Credit Monitoring plan. In addition, CAMC is also offering to pay for the patients to apply a security freeze at all three national credit bureaus, to block any unauthorized persons from taking out new credit in their name.
Because identity theft can happen in many ways, we also included with the notification letters an Identity Theft Fact Sheet, as well as pamphlets about identity theft which were provided by the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The booklet from the Attorney General’s Office also contains information on how to apply a security freeze, which provides even greater protection against identity theft than credit monitoring. CAMC is also offering to reimburse patients for the cost of applying for a security freeze.
We have also set up a toll free number to answer any questions that you may have and to provide additional information to you about credit monitoring or security freezes. Patients may call 1-855-388-6699 during normal business hours (weekdays, from 8 am to 5 pm, Eastern Standard Time).
We recognize that the confidence of our patients and the community may be shaken because of the action of our vendor and we are deeply sorry for that. Please be assured that we have worked around the clock with assistance from external privacy and security advisors to evaluate and address this situation, and taken actions to ensure appropriate safeguards will be put in place throughout our organization to protect the personal data that we collect and hold about our patients and other individuals.