I am surprised this doesn't happen more often, or become public when it does happen, and I suspect it will:
Corporate custodians of confidential medical data should be closely monitoring events connected to a nightmarish computer security breach in the St. Louis region.
Express Scripts is one of the nation’s largest pharmacy benefits managers. The company, with headquarters in St. Louis County, handles approximately 500 million prescriptions per year for 50 million workers at 1,600 American companies. Early in October, it received an extortion letter, the details of which it released on Nov. 6.
The letter included personal information on about 75 Express Scripts clients — Social Security numbers, dates of birth and, in some cases, information about prescription medications. Whoever sent the letter demanded money from the company — the amount has not been disclosed — and threatened to use the Internet to reveal personal and medical information about millions of people if the demands were not met.
Last week, the criminal activity expanded: Express Scripts said that individual clients had received extortion letters directly.
Express Scripts is cooperating with the FBI in the case. It issued a statement saying it would not pay any extortion demands. The company is offering a $1 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the extortionist or extortionists.
Beyond the scale of the problem for Express Scripts — and the potential impact on the company is enormous — the issue extends well beyond the mounting concerns about identity theft, a phenomenon with which most people have become at least somewhat familiar.
The greater problem is the unique nature of personal medical records, the importance of moving to computerization of such records to improve health safety and reduce costs and the irreversibility of the damage people can suffer if confidential medical information becomes public. The stakes are so high that a federal law establishes strict standards for maintaining the privacy of medical information and stiff fines for failing to do so.
Medical records of all kinds — paper and, especially, electronic — must be protected with the most sophisticated kinds of security systems available, including backup protections and automatic alerts of security violations. Yet Express Scripts learned of this breach in the “worst way,” as InformationWeek.com security correspondent George Hulme put it in an online report: “via an extortion letter.”
The Express Scripts breach raises many questions for all elements of the health industry: hospitals, clinics and doctors’ practices, benefits management firms, insurance companies, pharmacies, employers and government agencies:Are they using the most advanced information security technology possible? Do they minimize the amount of data they collect and keep it only as long as necessary? Do they have strict protocols governing access to personal and medical data — and systems to enforce those protocols? If criminals were to hack into their systems, how would the companies know? How soon? And are the systems capable of instantly cutting off illegal access as soon as a breach is discovered?
Confronted with a grave breach of electronic security, Express Scripts has responded by contacting law enforcement, establishing an informational website, offering a substantial reward and hiring a private consulting firm to help clients who have privacy concerns and investigate situations that “appear to be tied to identity theft” and provide “identity restoration services.” There is no question that the company is taking the situation extremely seriously.Given the ongoing criminal situation, information about how Express Scripts’ data systems were compromised — and whether it could have been avoided — has yet to be disclosed. But the American people have the right to expect that their sensitive personal and medical information is zealously protected and kept secure — not only by Express Scripts but also by every person or company entrusted with it.
"Customers and customer relationships...have tangible measurable value to businesses, and their value is much easier to communicate to those who fund projects. So in an enterprise risk management scenario, their vlaue informs the risk management process...[For example, consider] a farmer deciding which crop to grow. A farmer interested in short term profits may grow the same high yield crop every year, but over time this would burn the fields out. The long term focused farmer would rotate the crops and invest in things that build the value of the farm and soil over time. Investing in security on behalf of your customers is like this. The investment made in securing your customer's data build current and future value for them. Measuring the value of the customer and relationships helps to target where to allocate security resources."