Data hackers are the modern day Bonnie and Clyde.
Only instead of robbing banks and holding people at gunpoint, they’re breaking into computers at doctors’ offices and hospitals and stealing your health records.
In some cases, they’re even holding the records for ransom – which could leave you unable to get the treatment or care you need.
It’s a brewing medical catastrophe the likes of which were unimaginable just a few short years ago.
And it means that you have to take some simple steps to protect yourself now, before it’s too late.
A gold mine for thieves
“Electronic health records are 100 times more valuable than stolen credit cards,” said data expert James Scott.
And unlike charges made on a stolen credit card, hacked health records can go on to have a life of their own for years to come.
They contain highly valuable information such as your Social Security number, your address, your job, plus your complete medical history.
Electronic health records are a like a gossip magazine that tells all – from the results of your last checkup to that CT scan of your ankle taken when you fell visiting Uncle Floyd.
For thieves, it’s like hitting the information jackpot.
But for hospitals and doctors’ offices, it’s a little more like being sent back to the Stone Age.
When MedStar Health, a medical provider that operates 10 hospitals in Maryland and Washington, D.C., suffered a major data hack this week, it couldn’t access any patient records.
It was a potentially dangerous emergency that had doctors and nurses scribbling patient information and treatments down on paper.
“We can’t do anything at all,” one MedStar employee told a reporter.
And this is just one of many attacks that are going on all over the country that aren’t getting as much media attention.
- In February the Hollywood (Calif.) Presbyterian Medical Center was blackmailed into paying hackers more than $16,000 to get its stolen data returned.
- Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital is hacked constantly, and that includes the theft of 2,000 X-rays! The hospital CEO said that tests such as X-rays are frequently sold to Chinese nationals who wouldn’t be able to pass a health exam necessary for a travel visa.
- Even small hospitals and individual medical offices are under attack. The tiny Desert Valley Hospital in Victorville, California was hit by hackers just prior to the big MedStar incident.
And, believe it or not, things are only going to get worse.
Remember that brilliant “stimulus” scheme Obama signed into law back in 2009 called The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)? Well, it just about guaranteed that everyone’s health information would become a target.
A key part of ARRA was to create extremely detailed, computerized accounts of all your health information. That means anything and everything about you, including your medical history, lab reports, and all current and past medications.
And not just from one doctor, either, but every single doctor or hospital you’ve ever been to. And if health care providers don’t comply, they can face huge fines.
That’s why crooks are so interested in this data. It’s a literal gold mine. And that’s why you need to take these three important steps to stay as safe as possible:
Step #1: Make use of those free services to check your credit report several times a year to be sure your Social Security number hasn’t been hacked.
Step #2: Keep your own copies of all your medical records. That way, you won’t have to rely on your doctor or a hospital paying a ransom to get them back.
Step #3: Go to this website maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to see if your health provider’s data has been breached: By clicking on “advanced options” you can narrow the search to your state.
“Washington-area MedStar hospital chain paralyzed by hackers’ virus attack” March 29, 2016, The Chicago Tribune, chicagotribune.com