PA: In the aftermath of a flood, a discarded computer leads to a breach notice

Steve Snyder reports in the Lebanon Daily News that Lebanon Internal Medicine Associates, P. C.  of Pennsylvania has notified patients of a breach that occurred after a storm resulted in office flooding. The breach involved a computer that was used to support the practice’s on-site lab and had wound up under water following Tropical Storm Lee:

Restoration contractors disposed of the computer, although they were not directed to do so.

The letter does not state, however, whether the contractors had been specifically instructed not to dispose of it, only that they hadn’t been told to do so. Contractors are a common source of breaches. In this case, it may just have been a simple confusion/honest error on the contractor’s part, but entities can learn from this in terms of the need to be clear with contractors about what not to touch or do.

At the time of the disposal, the server was no longer in use, and the protected health information on it “was likely inaccessible due both to multiple pre-existing security measures within the server and to damage caused by it being submerged in the floodwater,” the letter states.

The letter does not state whether encryption was among the multiple pre-existing security measures, but since they are making notification, I assume that NIST-grade encryption was not deployed.

The incident occurred on September 12, but wasn’t detected until October 18.

Information that was contained on the hard drive was dated between November 1999 and Aug. 25 [2011] and included: full names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, home addresses, account numbers, diagnoses, laboratory test results and medical insurance information.

A notice to patients was also posted to the practice’s web site this week, linked from the home page as “Lab Server Notification.”

The notification does not offer patients any free credit monitoring assistance.

Of note, the group says they had reviewed their security and found them “adequate to address normal and reasonably-anticipated risks” associated with the maintenance of protected health information.  I’m sure some would debate that, as if the computer had been stolen, would the security measures have been enough to prevent access to the data or would notification under HIPAA be required? They would almost certainly have to notify.

Updated Dec. 9: This incident was reported to HHS. The report indicates that 55,000 patients had data on the server.

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