Sep 292011

TRICARE, the health care program serving Uniformed Service members, retirees and their families worldwide, issued the following public statement on their web site:


On September 14, 2011, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) reported a data breach involving personally identifiable and protected health information (PII/PHI) impacting an estimated 4.9 million military clinic and hospital patients. The information was contained on backup tapes from an electronic health care record used in the military health system (MHS) to capture patient data from 1992 through September 7, 2011, and may include Social Security numbers, addresses and phone numbers, and some personal health data such as clinical notes, laboratory tests and prescriptions. There is no
financial data, such as credit card or bank account information, on the backup tapes.

The risk of harm to patients is judged to be low despite the data elements involved since retrieving the data on the tapes would require knowledge of and access to specific hardware and software and knowledge of the system and data structure. The incident is being investigated and additional information will be published as soon as it is available.

Meanwhile, both SAIC and TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) are reviewing current data protection security policies and procedures to prevent similar breaches in the future.

Anyone who suspects that they were impacted by this incident is urged to take steps to protect their personal information and should be guided by the Federal Trade Commission at:

Concerned patients may contact the SAIC Incident Response Call Center, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time at the following numbers:

United States, call toll free: (855) 366-0140
International, call collect: (952) 556-8312

Questions & Answers

Q. Whose personal information was at risk of compromise?
A. Approximately 4.9 million patients who received care from 1992 through September 7, 2011 in the San Antonio area military treatment facilities (MTFs) (including the filling of pharmacy prescriptions) and others whose laboratory workups were processed in these same MTFs even though the patients were receiving treatment elsewhere.

Q. What type of information was lost?
A. The PII/PHI data elements involved include, but are not limited to names, Social Security numbers, addresses, diagnoses, treatment information, provider names, provider locations and other patient data, but do not include any financial data, such as credit card or bank account information.

Q. Can just anyone access this data?
A. No. Retrieving the data on the tapes requires knowledge of and access to specific hardware and software and knowledge of the system and data structure.

Q. Why have almost 2 weeks passed before this notification was posted?
A. The exact circumstance surrounding this data loss remain the subject of an ongoing investigation. We did not want to raise undue alarm in our beneficiaries and so wanted to determine the degree of risk this data loss represented before making notifications.

Q. What is TRICARE doing to protect affected beneficiaries following the loss of this information?
A. TRICARE and SAIC are working together to identify as quickly as possible all beneficiaries whose information may have been involved in the breach and notify as appropriate.

Q. What should affected beneficiaries do to protect themselves?
A. Beneficiaries can monitor their credit and place a free fraud alert on their credit for a period of 90 days using the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) web site. The FTC site also provides other valuable information regarding actions that can be taken now or in the future, should any problems develop. This information is available at:

Q. How can affected beneficiaries get more information?
A. Beneficiaries can call the SAIC Incident Response Call Center, Monday through
Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time at the following numbers:
United States, call toll free: (855) 366-0140
International, call collect: (952) 556-8312

Notice that they haven’t told us the nature of the breach, but Sig Christenson of reports that a SAIC spokesperson indicated the breach “consisted of the loss of storage media, not an electronic breach. There was a loss of magnetic storage media.”

“Loss” as in, “we lost it” or as in “loss due to theft?” It would be nice to have some clarification on that. The fact that it was reported to the police as soon as the loss was discovered leads me to think this may have involved theft, but we’ll find out eventually. [UPDATE:  the tapes were stolen from an unattended car.]

SAIC has been involved in previous breaches affecting large numbers of individuals. Some breach-related news on SAIC prior to 2009 can be found on while a 2010 incident involving stolen backup tapes was reported to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

  2 Responses to “TRICARE discloses SAIC breach: stolen backup tapes held data on 4.9 million (updated)”

  1. Riddle me this. The problem here is that the backups cover a large area of time. Why? I mean, can’t data like this be saved by quarterly, semi-annual or yearly information? Why the heck would you want to consistently back up the 20 year history of all this? This method is absurd. The sheer volume of data, and tapes involved should be massive, if it has medical information, and data like catscan, MRI, xrays and other data attached.

    The staff should be briefed to report any visitor or caller requesting information on the type of ADP equipment and software they are currently using. Any data that is “leaked out” now will aid the people who stole the tapes. But, it wouldn’t surprise me that they will probably locate the tape(s) at an off-site storage facility since it was Hurricane Season, and someone forgot to mention the fact they were shipped out.

    Being a member of Tricare, the news is disturbing. SAIC can say what they want about the data on the tapes, but the bottom line is this; there are ways to discover the type of backups hardware and software that was utilized. Anyone thats determined will get the data. Others will simply throw them out or erase and reuse for their own use. Lets hope they are found.

    With SAIC being whacked by HIPPA and the US Government, they will probably walk out of this situation with a much lighter wallet in the coming months. Have thier stock? Sell Mortiter, Sell !

    – MT

    • We don’t yet know, do we, whether the tape was stolen or just lost, which should affect the risk assessment?

      But you’ll be delighted to hear (NOT) that SAIC was just awarded a $15m govt contract to support the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Data Warehouse.

      I doubt that HHS/OCR will “whack” SAIC over this, in part, because they won’t look at the fact that this is the second backup tape incident SAIC has reported since 2010. That 2010 incident was not even reported to HHS because it wasn’t a medical database as far as I could tell. In any event, as I understand it from my conversations with HHS, they just look at the current incident and do not look at whether there is any pattern or recurring problems.

      This appears to be one of the largest data breaches involving medical data that we know about, and I’m a tad surprised it isn’t getting more press today, but maybe the media will catch up with it. The only larger breach that I know about was the Virginia Department of Health Professions hack that potentially affected over 8 million – and their database didn’t contain as much detailed information as this backup may have contained. Of course, SAIC, TRICARE and others will claim low risk for this one, but low risk is not no risk, as you properly note.

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