Data Loss Prevention (DLP) , Governance & Risk Management , Incident & Breach Response

4 Stolen Health Databases Reportedly for Sale on Dark Web

Hacker Takes Credit for Theft of Data on Nearly 10 Million Patients
4 Stolen Health Databases Reportedly for Sale on Dark Web

(This story has been updated)

See Also: Hunt Cloud Threats or Be Hunted | CISO Guide to Cloud Compromise Assessments

A hacker is reportedly selling on the dark web copies of databases stolen from three unidentified U.S. healthcare organizations and one unnamed health insurer containing data on nearly 10 million individuals for prices ranging from about $96,000 to $490,000 in bitcoin for each database.

The hacker taking credit, who calls himself "thedarkoverlord," is operating on the TheRealDeal dark web marketplace and is offering to sell "a unique one-off copy" of each of the databases, according to dark net news reporting website DeepDotWeb and other news sites. Some of the data being offered for sale appears to be old, according to news reports.

The hacked data being sold, according to DeepDotWeb, and other media sites, includes:

  • A database containing plaintext data of 9.3 million individuals from a large, unidentified U.S. health insurer, which the apparent hacker told was "retrieved using a zero day within the RDP protocol that gave direct access to this sensitive information;"
  • A database containing plaintext data of 397,000 patients of a healthcare organization based in Georgia, which was "retrieved from an accessible internal network using readily available plaintext usernames and passwords," the hacker told DeepDotWeb;
  • A database containing plaintext data of 210,000 patients from a healthcare provider operating in the central and Midwestern region of the U.S., which the hacker claims "was retrieved from a severely misconfigured network using readily available plaintext usernames and passwords."
  • A database containing data of 48,000 patients of a Farmington, Mo.-based healthcare organization, which the hacker claims "was retrieved from a Microsoft Access database within their internal network using readily available plaintext usernames and passwords."

Media website The Daily Dot, which says it examined TheRealDeal listings for the three healthcare organization databases, reports that among the data being sold are patients' names, dates of birth, addresses, phone numbers and Social Security numbers. reports the insurance database includes similar information.

Extortion Attempt

DeepDotWeb reports that the self-proclaimed hacker, over an encrypted Jabber conversation, told the news site he used "an exploit in how companies use RDP [remote desk protocol]. So it is a very particular bug. The conditions have to be very precise for it."

The hacker is selling each of the databases for prices ranging from 151 to 750 bitcoins, according to various news reports. DeepDotWeb says the hacker provided it with images of the three hacked databases from healthcare organizations, with all the identifiable information redacted "so the target company can remain anonymous for now."

The hacker also left a note on the dark web that appears to indicate that the attacker attempted to extort payments from the healthcare entities before putting the data up for sale on the dark web, according to DeepDotWeb.

"Next time an adversary comes to you and offers you an opportunity to cover this up and make it go away for a small fee to prevent the leak, take the offer. There is a lot more to come," the hacker warns, according to the DeepDotWeb report.

Monetizing a security breach by asking for "hush money" is a classic ploy, says researcher Stephen Cobb of security services firm ESET. "If the attacker gains access to a sensitive database, his top three options to make money are to ransom it, sell it on the black market or simply ask for money to keep quiet," he says. "In this case it looks like the hush money request did not work out, hence the offer for sale."

Records for Sale

The sale of health information on the dark web is commonplace, research organizations and law enforcement agencies have confirmed in numerous reports, notes Mac McMillan, CEO of the security consultancy CynergisTek.

"Once information has been stolen, it can be resold over and over again, which is why healthcare information is so valuable and at the same time so dangerous - it's not perishable."

So, if an entity is breached and data stolen, "there is a good chance it will be sold," McMillan says.

Organizations that get a warning from hackers or other third-parties about their stolen data purportedly being for sale on the dark web should immediately conduct a forensics examination to determine whether the report is accurate and the data is authentic and contact law enforcement authorities, McMillan says.

To prevent this kind of data theft, McMillan advises healthcare entities to "eliminate passwords as a single factor for authentication, encrypt your data and employ data loss protection [technology] to identify other instances of the information, like the Access database, and stop the exfiltration of the information."

Not Just Hacker Breaches

But it's not only breaches involving hacker attacks that can result in health data being sold on the dark web, warns Ann Paterson, senior vice president and program director of the non-profit coalition Medical Identity Fraud Alliance.

"While MIFA doesn't delve into the dark web, we don't take for granted that lost data, whether through malicious hacking or inadvertent loss such as a lost laptop, is immune to being sold on the dark web. Such cases are not surprising, since those who work in this area understand that selling protected health information is lucrative - it's one of the drivers why this type of crime is growing."

Paterson advises healthcare entities that experience PHI data loss to work with law enforcement and cyber investigators to try to determine if the data has made its way to the dark web. "However, this is often difficult to determine, since data may not be advertised immediately after the loss happens. Fraudsters often 'sit' on the data for a while before attempting to sell it."

Consumers also need to become more educated about the details of medical identity theft and fraud to understand how they might be affected when their PHI is compromised, she says.

"As a society, many of us are experiencing 'data breach fatigue' and may not be paying as close attention to the potential fraud threats when we've been part of a breach. This is dangerous, since there are plenty of indications that PHI is being bought and sold for fraudulent purposes."

And although the owners of the three healthcare databases reportedly being sold on the dark web haven't yet been publicly identified, affected healthcare organizations can often recognize if any of their stolen data is showing up on the dark web, McMillan says. "These records should be an exact match for ones in someone's system," he says. "They should be able to search their system and match them."

But Cobb says confirming the source of stolen data appearing for sale on the dark web can be complicated.

"This can be quite difficult, given that records for one patient may be in dozens of databases belonging to different participants in the highly complex U.S. healthcare delivery and reimbursement system," he says. "Sometimes the seller will reveal the data structure or the database software in which the records were stored, but again, this is not necessarily conclusive, since many institutions use the same software. If a seller has logs of the breach activity, this would be more conclusive, but the seller might not have these and may not be the original breach [source]."

And the same data may be breached numerous times, by multiple attackers, using either the same or different attack vectors, Cobb notes, "particularly if the target organization is not closely monitoring for attacks."

About the Author

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Executive Editor, HealthcareInfoSecurity, ISMG

McGee is executive editor of Information Security Media Group's media site. She has about 30 years of IT journalism experience, with a focus on healthcare information technology issues for more than 15 years. Before joining ISMG in 2012, she was a reporter at InformationWeek magazine and news site and played a lead role in the launch of InformationWeek's healthcare IT media site.

Around the Network

Our website uses cookies. Cookies enable us to provide the best experience possible and help us understand how visitors use our website. By browsing, you agree to our use of cookies.