Another big data breach, this time at insurance company Anthem

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Anthem, the nation’s second largest insurance provider, was hit by hackers who stole lots of customer data including names, birth dates, medical IDs, social security numbers, snail-mail and e-mail addresses, and employment information —  but allegedly no credit card or medical information, the company said. Although with all that other information out there, that may not be much comfort.

In a letter to customers, Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish acknowledged that his own information was stolen but said there is no evidence that credit card or medical information were compromised. [company]Anthem[/company], formerly known as [company]Wellpoint[/company], posted more information here for customers.

Little is known about which of the company’s databases or applications were hijacked, but Anthem said all of its businesses were affected. And there was the usual butt-covering: Swedish said the company “immediately made every effort to close the security vulnerability, contacted the FBI and began fully cooperating with their investigation.” Anthem also characterized the breach as a result of “a very sophisticated external cyber attack.” But, seriously, what else would they say? As a couple wiseguys on Twitter put it: “It’s better than saying you left the front door open.” Or the keys on the visor.

Anthem also said it hired Mandiant, a sort of cybersecurity SWAT team, to assess its systems and recommend solutions. Cybersecurity specialist Brian Krebs has more on the potential impact.

The topic of the breach came up during a call earlier today during which the White House discussed its interim report on big data opportunties with reporters. The gist was that Anthem appeared to have notified authorities within 30 days of finding the problem, which is what the White House would stipulate in bills it is formulating.

The security of healthcare data is of particular concern — and preserving patient privacy was the impetus behind HIPAA and other regulations. But, as Gigaom pointed out earlier this year, that data security may be as much fiction as fact.

The benefits of consolidating digital patient data in one place so that a patient or her doctors can access it spells convenience for authorized users, but that data conglomeration also offers a compelling target for bad guys.

At this point it would be natural for a given consumer to feel both spooked and jaded by these security snafus. Last year alone, there were major breaches at Target, Home Depot, and JPMorgan Chase, affecting hundreds of millions of people in aggregate.

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