GA: Atlanta Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Computer Hacking Charges

Eric McNeal, 37, of Atlanta, Georgia, pleaded guilty today in federal district court to intentionally accessing a protected computer of a competing perinatal medical practice without authorization.

United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said, “The citizens of our community should expect that their confidential patient information is just that—confidential—and that it will not be hacked and used for direct-mail marketing purposes. This criminal misuse of sensitive personal information resulted in a federal felony conviction for this defendant, which should serve as a warning for anyone else considering such hacking.”

Brian D. Lamkin, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, said, “The FBI is well suited to conduct such cyber-based investigations and is pleased with the role its agents played in bringing this defendant to justice. Mr. McNeal misused both his technical skills and his previously held position of trust within the victim company in accessing patient information.”

According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges, and other information presented in court: McNeal worked as an information technology specialist for “A.P.A.,” a perinatal medical practice in Atlanta. He separated from employment with A.P.A. in November 2009, and subsequently joined a competing perinatal medical practice, which was located in the same building as A.P.A. In April 2010, McNeal used his home computer to hack into A.P.A.’s patient database without authorization. He downloaded the names, telephone numbers, and addresses of A.P.A.’s patients, and then “wiped” A.P.A.’s database, deleting all the patient information from A.P.A.’s system.

McNeal subsequently used the patient names and contact information to facilitate a direct-mail marketing campaign for the benefit of his new employer. There is no evidence that he downloaded or misused specific patient medical information.

McNeal was charged in a criminal information on September 16, 2011, and pleaded guilty to its count of intentionally accessing a protected computer without authorization. He could receive a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Sentencing is scheduled for December 5, 2011, at 11 a.m., before Senior United States District Judge Willis B. Hunt.

SOURCE: U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Georgia

So how was McNeal able to access his former employer’s database after his employment terminated? Did he still having a working password/login?

Although court documents refer to McNeal’s previous employer as “A.P.A.,” a simple Google search reveals that at one time, he had listed himself as Vice President of Operations at Atlanta Perinatal Associates. His subsequent employer, listed as “S.B.” in court documents, is revealed by a Google search as SeeBaby, where McNeal’s position was listed as Office Manager. Both APA and SeeBaby are in the same building on Peachtree St. Northeast in Atlanta.

There is no breach listing in HHS’s breach tool for this incident, so it is not clear to me whether less than 500 patients were involved or if APA did not report the incident. Nor is it clear whether APA ever notified its patients of the breach.   I’ve sent APA an inquiry about the incident and will update this entry if/when I hear back from them.

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