Jun 022018

After his victim allegedly didn’t respond to his repeated demands for a “security fee,”  a hacker accuses the victim of covering up a hack for almost two years. 

One of the breaches added to HHS’s public breach tool this past week is a breach reported by Holland Eye Surgery and Laser Center in Michigan. The incident is noted on HHS’s breach tool as a hack affecting 42,200 patients.  But according to the self-identified hacker, there’s more to this story than the covered entity has disclosed.

In early April, DataBreaches.net was contacted by a hacker who had contacted this site in the past about a hack of a dental practice. He is known to this site as “Lifelock,” and signs his communications as “Todd Davis,”  aka “Lifelock.” After his first contact with this site in the Yaley case, DataBreaches.net did find him on some dark web markets as Lifelock, selling identity information and “fullz.”

According to Lifelock’s statement to this site: in June, 2016, he hacked Holland Eye Surgery & Laser Center in Holland, Michigan. He then reportedly contacted them and demanded a “security fee” of $10,000.00 for helping them secure their patient data. As he related it to this site:

I invoiced them a fee of 10000 USD a fair payment for my time and to help them secure their data. They turned off access immediately to the RDP server so I know they received communications from me. Over the course of weeks I requested them to pay my invoice to secure their patient data. They never once acknowledged me. But I am very persistent and communicate with staff members, faxes and all means where i can verify delivery. These pricks want to cover up the incident.

When the doctors didn’t pay his “security fee,” he claims he followed through on a threat he had made:  he began selling small amounts of their patients’ data on the dark web – first on AlphaBay, and then later on, on TradeRoute. He claims that each time he did, he informed or taunted the doctors that he was selling their patients’ information.

According to his statements to this site, Lifelock sold more than 200 patients’ information, but still,

the practice did not inform Michigan or HHS authorities that the data had been breached. Their patients had no fair warning that the data had been breached. I setup banks for dirty money transfers in these peoples names, my buyers used them for identity protection for when arrested, and to make cell phone accounts to purchase 5 iphones at a time from Verizon, ATT et al.

I have contacted the practice at least 30 times over the past 2 years to do the right thing for their patients.

As part of the proof he provided to this site, Lifelock included two databases: one called patients.csv, with 202,163 records and one called person.csv, with 42,229 records.  The files are date-stamped June 26, 2016. Holland Eye’s report to HHS seems to correspond to the number of patients in the person.csv file, but it is not clear what happened to all the people who had data in the patients.csv file. That database has names, addresses, insurance information, and some other fields. DataBreaches.net sent an inquiry to Holland Eye’s external counsel asking for an explanation on that point, but did not receive an immediate response. This post will be updated if an explanation is received. UPDATE of June 4: Lawyers for Holland Eye responded to this site’s inquiry: “We investigated the patients.csv file you have a copy of and determined that there is not anyone in it who was not also in the person.csv file. The patients.csv file merely has more than one line item for many individual patients. In short, these people were included in the report to HHS.”  DataBreaches.net appreciates their clarification.

In any event, according to Lifelock, in March of this year, Lifelock contacted the doctors yet again, and also contacted the mayor of Holland, Michigan, Nancy De Boer. Shortly after those unsuccessful attempts, he contacted DataBreaches.net, claiming that his goal was now to get the patients notified and the doctors exposed and shamed for allegedly covering up the breach:

Please find a way to let the people of Holland know that they have been breached and that the people who swore a hippocratic oath to do no harm, have done them immense harm. Further that the people who are supposed to be in charge do not have their best interests in mind and would rather suckle the cocks of the rich Dutchmen rather than inform the common rabble of their plight.

The reference to “people in charge” appears to be a response to his attempt to get a response from Mayor De Boer. According to Lifelock, when he contacted her in March:

She did not respond until I opened multiple lines of credit in her name, utility accounts, EIN’s, etc… She did respond, and appeared to take the breach seriously, but her motive was to find my identity rather than help the people of her town. She used a silly technique of embedding a tracking image to try and find me.

On May 16, after confirming that the breach had never been reported to HHS or the state of Michigan, DataBreaches.net sent Holland Eye Surgery a detailed message about the hacker’s claims with a request for a response.

On May 18, two days later and almost 60 days after they claimed to have first learned of the breach, the practice issued a media notice in the Holland Sentinel.

In that notice, they claim that they first learned of the breach on March 19, 2018 when they were contacted by someone claiming to be a pentester who informed them that he had their patients’ data and had sold some of it.

External counsel for the doctors later confirmed to DataBreaches.net that the “pentester” signed his communication in March as “Todd Davis.”

Notice of May 18 in Holland Sentinel. Courtesy of Holland Sentinel.

According to their media notice, then, although the practice appears to acknowledge that they had been hacked in 2016 and that the hacker was in possession of their patient data, they claim that the hacker “concealed the extent of his or her access until the recent email communications in March 2018.”  That, of course, is disputed by Lifelock’s claims, but this site has no proof of his claims as to any contacts prior to March, 2018. When asked for proof of any early emails, Lifelock had replied:

Unfortunately my original communications to HE have been deleted when sigaint.org went down. I normally delete communications frequently as I am not wanting to have excess evidence should Europol\RCMP\ICR\Scotland Yard et al kick in my door one day. My normal intent is not journalism unfortunately. I will look to see if I can find old email addresses I used and see if there is any evidence. Some email addresses as you can imagine get eliminated for TOS abuses. Sadly Gmail doesn’t like its services to be used for extortion schemes.

Lifelock never provided any additional evidence after that communication. That said, the doctors’ version makes little sense to this blogger, while Lifelock’s version does make sense.

Why would a hacker hack them in June, 2016 and then wait almost two years to first contact them with a (“security fee”) demand? Lifelock’s claims that he hacked them, promptly tried to extort them for a “security fee,” and then upped the pressure on them (or tried to) by selling patient data and letting them know that he was doing that makes a lot more sense, and we’ve certainly seen that scenario before.  TheDarkOverlord (TDO) frequently used such methods – releasing small amounts of patient information or claiming to have sold it – to increase pressure on their victims.

So… is this site being gamed by Lifelock to seek revenge on a reluctant victim or to send a message to other victims to pay up or face public exposure? Perhaps, but if his claims are true, then the doctors covered up a breach for almost two years and knowingly left their patients at risk.  But are his claims true? This site has no evidence or confirmation of the crucial claim that Holland Eye first became aware that they had been breached in June, 2016. Perhaps that is something that OCR should investigate.

DataBreaches.net contacted the Holland Police with a freedom of information request for the police report and any associated records, but has received no response as yet.  This site also contacted Mayor Nancy De Boer’s office to request a statement, but did not get any response.

Holland Eye’s media notice makes clear that they have contacted patients whose Social Security number was involved and offered them credit monitoring services. They have provided all patients with advice on how to protect themselves and to check their statements for signs of information misuse. And as noted at the outset of this report, they have notified HHS.

This post will be updated if more information becomes available.

Mar 092018

Update of March 12: After this story appeared on March 9, DataBreaches.net received a call from Superintendent Bradshaw, who had been out of town when my email had arrived. This story has been updated – and corrected occasionally – to incorporate his answers.

If students are at risk of significant emotional damage because highly sensitive information has been hacked and held for an extortion payment, should a school district pay or not? And if they do pay, should they admit that publicly? Last year, Columbia Falls Schools in Montana found themselves caught in the middle between hackers’ threats and pressure not to cave in to extortionists. 

When the hackers known as TheDarkOverlord (TDO) attacked a small school district in  Montana last September,  the story did not initially make national news. Most people had probably never even heard of School District Six or Columbia Falls Schools, a district that has two elementary schools, one junior high school, and one high school to cover 2,400 students in a large area of northern Flathead County, Montana.

But as more details emerged, it became clear that this attack was exponentially more frightening than any of the hackers’ previously known attacks. Without being anywhere near their target physically, TDO had managed to instill terror in a community by sending out personalized threat messages to parents and students as well as district administrators. Threats of violence were punctuated with phrases such as “blood splattering the hallways.”

[Note: DataBreaches.net refers to TDO in the plural because it appears that there is more than one individual involved as part of a collective.] 

As fear spread to other schools in the area, more and more schools decided to close while the threats were evaluated and investigated. Within a matter of days, more than 15,000 students in more than 30 public and private schools  and one community college were told their schools were closed.

TDO’s Twitter avatar.

Adding to the community’s fear,  the hackers – who seem to relish being referred to as “savages” – had let it be known that they had managed to gain access to the school’s security cameras and were able to watch what was going on.

It came as no surprise to read that even the Superintentent of Columbia Falls Schools had been terrified. Steve Bradshaw told the Flathead Beacon:

“In all honesty, it’s the first time in my career that I’ve ever moved a gun to my bedroom,” Bradshaw, the Columbia Falls school superintendent, said.

Although parents and school personnel did not know it at first, the risk of actual physical violence to the parents and students was slim to nonexistent. Not only is TDO not in the Montana area as far as anyone in law enforcement knows, there is nothing in their known history that would predict that they would actually commit violence with their own hands.

But there was still a significant risk of harm that could not be ignored. If the district did not pay TDO’s extortion demand, would TDO release or dump highly sensitive data that they claimed that they had acquired from counseling and school health records? Could they name and shame or expose a vulnerable student in such a way that it might lead a vulnerable student to commit violence or suicide?

Based on my past interviews with these hackers, I could not rule out that possibility. It was a possibility that kept me up nights, worrying.

Thankfully, there was no tragedy in Columbia Falls last year. I was relieved, but I also wondered why TDO hadn’t dumped data or taken any other harsh measures. Had they had a change of heart (unlikely but not impossible)? Had the district paid their extortion demand?  Or was there some other explanation for their lack of punitive response?

I could find no news reports indicating that the district had made any extortion payment. To the contrary,  a report by NBC in November quoted Superintendent Bradshaw as saying that Columbia Falls had decided not to pay the extortion. One week earlier, Bradshaw had also told another news outlet that the district had declined to pay the ransom.

What Bradshaw didn’t tell either news outlet – because he did not know, it now appears – was that weeks earlier, a partial payment had been made to the hackers through an intermediary.  The payment was certainly not as much as the hackers had demanded, but DataBreaches.net can now reveal that there was a payment and some details about it.

A “Test” Payment

By agreement with TDO, DataBreaches.net will not be revealing the bitcoin address used for payment, but TDO gave this site the address and then signed a message from it that this site was able to verify.

Of course, the address by itself does not prove who made a payment to it or for what purpose, but TDO also provided this site with digitally signed emails (DKIM) with headers and paths. The email chain revealed that Superintendent Bradshaw and someone claiming to be from the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office had been in email communication and negotiations with TDO.

On September 21, for example, Superintendent Bradshaw had emailed TDO:

We request that the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office continue to negotiate on our behalf as our agent. The email address for all communications is [redacted by DataBreaches.net]. Option 3 seems the best. We are a small community with limited resource we need to discuss amounts.

The “Option 3,” reference was to the third option outlined in TDO’s ransom letter to the District.  Instead of paying $150,000 in BTC over the course of a year, the District could get a discounted rate of $75,000 if they paid it all in BTC by  2017-10-20 23:59 UTC.

Some of the emails I was provided were signed by “FCSO” (for the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office). Whoever was writing emails signed by FCSO never signed their emails as anything other than “FCSO,” and DataBreaches.net does not know the identity of the participant from the sheriff’s office. Indeed,  this site has no real proof that the person signing emails as FCSO was actually employed by FCSO. For all this site knows, it could have been a federal agent.

In any event, “FCSO” subsequently introduced a fourth party to the email communications and negotiations. On October 10, “FCSO” emailed TDO:

You will be contacted shortly by email from an individual who will be making this initial payment on our behalf. The email will come from the email address [redacted by DataBreaches.net] and you can consider that they are acting on our behalf. This initial payment will be a smaller amount of $5,000 and is designed to test whether we can send payments to you reliably.

Shortly thereafter, the intermediary established themselves with TDO and then made a payment to that bitcoin address. The BTC payment was slightly more than 1 BTC – an amount that was the then-equivalent of USD $5,000.00.

In a conversation with DataBreaches.net on March 12, Superintendent Bradshaw stated that not only was he not aware that any payment had been made to the wallet, but he had – and still has – no idea who paid the hackers, who the intermediary was, or what the source of the funds was. All he knows, he tells me, is that the district did not pay and its insurer did not pay.

Under Pressure

But if TDO anticipated that there would be more to come, they were wrong, because although the October 10th payment went smoothly and TDO confirmed receiving it, the district subsequently appeared to renege on any agreement and declined to pay.  In actuality, the district may not have been reneging if they didn’t even know any payment had been made, and the Superintendent claims he was pretty much kept in the dark about how others were responding to the hackers.

DataBreaches.net was not given all of the intervening emails, but an email dated October 23 from “FCSO” to TDO began:

FCSO and SD6 continued to work thoughout the weekend in a good faith effort to me [sic] the demands. We have been unable to overcome mounting pressure from outside sources around the country to discontinue further payments as well as communications. With that said, FCSO will discontinue the monitoring of this account. We recognize the $5,000 we worked diligently to provide you is lower that [sic] your demand.

The monitored account that FCSO referred to was a Gmail account that they had created for this matter.

But who were those outside sources around the country exerting “mounting pressure” on them not to pay and not to communicate? Were they other school districts or school board associations who didn’t want CFSD to encourage TDO to attack districts by rewarding them with ransom payments? Was it insurance companies? How about government agencies?

Based on my conversation with the Superintendent on March 12, it appears that any pressure the Superintendent was feeling was from his own community. The district had held meetings with parents to keep them apprised of the situation and according to Superintendent Bradshaw, the parents were militant about the district not paying ransom.  As one parent expressed it at  a meeting, “It will be a cold day in Hell before you spend my tax dollars paying these assholes off.”

Questions, But No Answers

As of this updated story, we still do not know for sure who made the payment or the source of the funds to pay the hackers, but Superintendent Bradshaw firmly denied that it was the district or the district’s insurer.

Sheriff Chuck Curry of the FCSO never responded to a voicemail requesting he contact this site to discuss the extortion payment and case, so we could not clarify whether it was really someone from the FCSO emailing TDO, and we do not know whether the county was the source of the $5,000.00 payment.

But should the payment to the hackers have been revealed?

We need to have a serious discussion about what to do in these miserable situations – pay or not pay, but we also need transparency so we can understand how decisions that have been made in the past potentially affected outcomes.

There are those who may raise the issue of whether this site is being gamed by TDO for its own purposes.  Of course it is. It is not to TDO’s advantage to have people think that victims can just not pay anything and escape unscathed. I can see why TDO would want to use the media  to let the public know that they had received a payment, lest other future victims decide not to pay anything, erroneously thinking that CFSD hadn’t paid anything and nothing bad happened.

But there is also a real story and real issues here that we should address. The U.S. Education Department and FBI have sent out alerts to schools about the need to secure data against attacks, but I harbor little hope that most entities will promptly and effectively secure their data or purge what may be no longer needed.

So assuming that districts still fail to adequately secure personal information, what should districts do the next time someone comes along and hacks extremely sensitive counseling records or health records? Should they pay or not pay? And if they pay, should they disclose that? And if they can’t afford to pay, should the FBI or federal agencies make payments to TDO to protect children from having sensitive files revealed?

These are not easy questions to answer.

On a positive note, however, I am happy to update this story with Superintendent Bradshaw’s  comments that the students in the district coped really well with everything that happened to them and they feel safe again in their schools. The parents and school personnel seem to have done a great job of helping the kids feel safe, and the kids are now focused on other issues. As one student put it in talking about the loss of a fellow student to cancer, if they are able to overcome that loss, they can overcome anything, and they live in  a great community.  It sure sounds like it.

Nov 082017

Recently, in an encrypted chat, a spokesperson for TheDarkOverlord (TDO) commented to me how their attack on Little Red Door in Indiana is still getting media attention. Not surprisingly to me, attacking a charity that helps cancer patients seemed to generate a particularly strong emotional response among members of the pubic.  Well, that and threatening school kids and their parents, which TDO has also done.

Today, there’s a report in the Financial Times on how charities are ill-equipped to defend against cyberattacks/hacks. And sure enough, they start out by mentioning the Little Red Door attack:

In January 2017, Little Red Door, a small US healthcare charity, received an ominous email with “Cancer Sucks, But We Suck More!” as the subject line. Hackers had blocked access to the client files and financial data of the Indiana-based organisation and were demanding money for its release. Little Red Door opted not to pay the bitcoin ransom (equivalent to about $43,000), as it did not keep sensitive information, such as bank account details or social security numbers. However, it had to spend months rebuilding its client data.

Sarah Murray goes on to provide more detail about the kinds of risks and challenges small charities face online and what steps they might take. You can read the full coverage on Financial Times. But mark my words, too: The Little Red Door attack was not an anomaly for TheDarkOverlord. Being a small charity or not taking donations online does not mean you will not become a victim of theirs. And if you are lucky enough not to become a victim of theirs, you may still become a victim of other threat actors.

If I told you today that I know your charity was about to be attacked tomorrow, would you do anything differently to protect your data and assets? If so, consider yourself so informed.

Nov 022017

First it was Larson Studios. Then an attempt to extort its clients, like Netflix. And now it’s Line 204. Lest there be any doubt, TheDarkOverlord wants you to know it is serious about attacking Hollywood “with prejudice.” And despite what Line 204’s owner claimed, the hack on Line 204 was not last week. It occurred one year ago, and the hackers have updated their loot periodically, without the studio ever noticing, the hackers claim.

It can take decades to grow a business, but in a matter of minutes, its viability can be threatened. How you respond may make a critical difference, and often, the entity’s response in the first minutes or hours makes that critical difference.

On October 26, Line 204 found itself joining the ever-growing ranks of those who had been hacked by TheDarkOverlord (TDO). Despite the fact that TDO has attacked dozens and dozens of entities since they first emerged under the TDO moniker last June, no one really knows for sure whether TDO is one person or a collective, although they have always maintained to this blogger that they are a large – and growing – organization that is highly cellularized. Most people involved in following their activities seem to believe that they are not located in the U.S.

TDO uses a variety of means to contact their victims, including email and SMS. Given how many scams there are these days via phone and SMS, it’s not surprising that a recipient of one of their messages might initially react with disbelief. That appears to be what happened with Line 204’s owner, Alton Butler. According to a spokesperson for the hackers, “As we were informing the bloke about our soiree, he stated, and we quote, ‘Riiiiight’ as if he didn’t believe us. We were left with the impression that he didn’t much believe our claims.”

Eventually, Butler did come to believe that his firm had been hacked, but in his initial statements to the media, Butler seemed to be claiming that the hack occurred on October 26. As DataBreaches.net pointed out in previous coverage of this incident and based on TDO’s tweets and previous statements to this site, Butler appeared to be in error. In an encrypted chat last night, a spokesperson for TheDarkOverlord confirmed that the breach first occurred last year: “We’ve maintained access and control to their computer network for a year, regularly updating our stash of the loot we heisted from their computer network.” They also confirmed that they had first reached out to Butler more than one month prior to October 26, although their message may have wound up in trash or a recycle bin.

But at some point – on October 26 – Butler realized that TDO was not kidding about the hack, although it appears he had not yet discovered the extent of the hack.”When we eventually convinced him of our little soiree, he immediately fell into a deep silence towards us,” a spokesperson informed DataBreaches.net. The deep silence may have reflected the FBI’s influence:

“We were prudently examining the FBI’s response to our friends at Line 204. A special agent, whom we won’t name at this time, carefully instructed Alton to heed his warning about working with us.”

Asked what kind of payment TDO had demanded from the firm, the spokesperson explained that they hadn’t negotiated a specific amount of internet money, but had asked Butler to maintain a timely response to their communications. This was the “basic request” TDO would subsequently refer to in a tweet rebuking Line 204 that they should have complied.

As they have done in numerous other hacks, TDO provided DataBreaches.net with an extensive sample of documents and files that they had exfiltrated, including bank deposit information, customer credit card numbers (truncated), and other client information, including information on celebrity clients. Among the customer and client records was a file with comments that were likely never intended to see the light of day, such as, “Payment up front is STRONGLY suggested.” and  “****DO NOT RENT TO THIS COMPANY!!!!****”

The sample was only a portion of what they claimed to have acquired. “We took everything we identified as being succulent. In the case of Line 204 this was over one terabyte,” they informed this site. Some of the data, they say, includes sensitive images. DataBreaches.net was not provided any sample of sensitive images, but was provided with some images from two events: a 40th birthday party and a birthday carnival for a 1-year-old child. How those might be related to any extortion demand is unclear to this site as they look relatively innocuous and may not be related at all.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, to those familiar with their TTP, TDO reached out to contact individual employees – and clients. “Upon Alton’s decision to fall silent on our requests, we proceeded to contact several clients of Line 204’s and begin negotiations with them directly,” the spokesperson claimed. TDO’s spokesperson would not indicate what clients they were contacting individually or what kind of sensitive information they had on those clients. Nor would they directly answer a question as to whether any of the clients they claim to have contacted indicated any willingness to negotiate with them or pay any extortion. “We’re unwilling to answer that question,” the spokesperson answered this blogger.

In the past, TDO has used the media – including this site – to try to increase pressure on intended victims by calling public attention to a situation as a veiled warning that if they don’t pay up, more might be revealed to the media or dumped publicly on public paste sites.

“When a client of ours refuses to comply with our requests, we escalate by involving our client’s clients. In the vast majority of cases, this amounts to a great loss for our uncooperative clients,” a spokesperson informed this site, adding: “If you’ve been a partner or a client of either Line 204 Studios or London Bridge Plastic Surgery, you should be very concerned. We’re coming for you next.”

TDO’s most recent tweet, on October 31, almost seems to suggest that they may have gone after – or may be going after – 21st Century Fox:

Hollywood’s top twenty films of the last century are quite good. We’d like to make twentieth in the list.

Time will tell, I guess.

But if you think that TDO is just a group of  bragging blackhats, think again. By now, there appear to be a number of agencies investigating them and yet not one person has apparently been caught even after more than one year. There have also been some high-level attempts to deploy NITs against them, they claim, and  this blogger may be eating humble pie for the next few days or weeks because based on wallets they showed me, it appears that they have made a bundle of money through their extortion schemes. I’ll have details on all of these developments and claims in an exclusive report on DataBreaches.net this week, so stay tuned.

Oct 182017

Austin Manual Therapy Associates (AMTA) has two locations in Austin, Texas.  They also have a very professional-looking web site and pictures of smiling and professional-looking physical therapy staff.

What they don’t have at this time, though, is any statement on their web site indicating that their patient data was hacked. And yet according to a spokesperson for TheDarkOverlord (TDO), AMTA was, indeed, hacked.

The hackers first publicly alluded to the hack in their Twitter account on October 4 and then again on October 11:

Are you a cardiologist in Miami, FL? How about a physical therapist in Austin, TX? Watch out.

Austin Manual Therapy Association from Texas, how’s your response coming along?

DataBreaches.net does not know whether AMTA ever responded to TheDarkOverlord (TDO), although TDO has claimed in an encrypted chat with DataBreaches.net that there was no response.

Nor does this site know exactly when or how TDO hacked AMTA, when or how they first contacted them to demand any payment, nor how many patients’ information they may have acquired. As of the time of this posting, this site only knows that it appears that AMTA was hacked by TDO. AMTA has not responded to two inquiries sent to it over this past week by this site.

Although TDO did not provide this site with a complete patient database, sample data that TDO did provide included a file with PHI labeled “No Response Patients,” a file with UHC insurance authorization for named patients, and a file with individual details about named patients:

Insurance authorization for named patients. Redacted by DataBreaches.net.


Some of the hacked files contained clinical information on patients. Redacted by DataBreaches.net.

This post may be updated if AMTA does send a statement to this site.  I would think that AMTA is covered by HIPAA and will need to report this incident to HHS, so we may see this up on HHS’s site within 60 days.

Unfortunately, the AMTA hack is only of a number of hacks of healthcare entities that TDO has launched within the past year. In fact, TDO offered to give this site information and data on more than a dozen other incidents, but this site declined for the time being as it becomes overwhelming trying to keep up with all their hacks. Perhaps when I get yet another drive with more storage, I will be able to take them up on their offer. Although these hacks and extortion attempts are unpleasant, I continue to think that it’s important to report on them so that the public – and more importantly, responsible entities – see how great a problem this is. If all the public sees are reports claiming that accidental disclosure is the biggest threat, well, blackhats like TDO will continue to just romp through patient databases.  Hacks may not be the largest percentage of incidents in healthcare, but let’s remember the number of records per incident metric and the fact that hacked data is more likely to be misused than accidentally disclosed data.