Why Suck Up Health Care Data? Maybe for Cyber Fraud?

November 20, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb humanoid. No smart software required.

In the US, medical care is an adventure. Last year, my “wellness” check up required a visit to another specialist. I showed up at the appointed place on the day and time my printed form stipulated. I stood in line for 10 minutes as two “intake” professionals struggled to match those seeking examinations with the information available to the check in desk staff. The intake professional called my name and said, “You are not a female.” I said, “That’s is correct.” The intake professional replied, “We have the medical records from your primary care physician for a female named Tina.” Nice Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act compliance, right?


A moose in Maine learns that its veterinary data have been compromised by bad actors, probably from a country in which the principal language is not moose grunts. With those data, the shocked moose can be located using geographic data in his health record. Plus, the moose’s credit card data is now on the loose. If the moose in Maine is scared, what about the humanoids with the fascinating nasal phonemes?

That same health care outfit reported that it was compromised and was a victim of a hacker. The health care outfit floundered around and now, months later, struggles to update prescriptions and keep appointments straight. How’s that for security? In my book, that’s about par for health care managers who [a] know zero about confidentiality requirements and [b] even less about system security. Horrified? You can read more about this one-horse travesty in “Norton Healthcare Cyber Attack Highlights Record Year for Data Breaches Nationwide.” I wonder if the grandparents of the Norton operation were participants on Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour radio show?

Norton Healthcare was a poster child for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. But the great state of Maine (yep, the one with moose, lovable black flies, and citizens who push New York real estate agents’ vehicles into bays) managed to lose the personal data for 2,192,515 people. You can read about that “minor” security glitch in the Office of the Maine Attorney General’s Data Breach Notification.

What possible use is health care data? Let me identify a handful of bad actor scenarios enabled by inept security practices. Note, please, that these are worse than being labeled a girl or failing to protect the personal information of what could be most of the humans and probably some of the moose in Maine.

  1. Identity theft. Those newborns and entries identified as deceased can be converted into some personas for a range of applications, like applying for Social Security numbers, passports, or government benefits
  2. Access to bank accounts. With a complete array of information, a bad actor can engage in a number of maneuvers designed to withdraw or transfer funds
  3. Bundle up the biological data and sell it via one of the private Telegram channels focused on such useful information. Bioweapon researchers could find some of the data fascinating.

Why am I focusing on health care data? Here are the reasons:

  1. Enforcement of existing security guidelines seems to be lax. Perhaps it is time to conduct audits and penalize those outfits which find security easy to talk about but difficult to do?
  2. Should one or more Inspector Generals’ offices conduct some data collection into the practices of state and Federal health care security professionals, their competencies, and their on-the-job performance? Some humans and probably a moose or two in Maine might find this idea timely.
  3. Should the vendors of health care security systems demonstrate to one of the numerous Federal cyber watch dog groups the efficacy of their systems and then allow one or more of the Federal agencies to probe those systems to verify that the systems do, in fact, actually work?

Without meaningful penalties for security failures, it may be easier to post health care data on a Wikipedia page and quit the crazy charade that health information is secure.

Stephen E Arnold, November 20, 2023


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