By Emily Ramshaw
The Texas Tribune
June 28, 2010
The FBI is investigating whether a hacker broke into the state's
confidential cancer registry, possibly holding personal information and
medical records hostage.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs says state health
officials notified his office in early May that a hacker was holding the
Texas Cancer Registry hostage and demanding a ransom. Suehs says
preliminary investigation results from the FBI indicate the threat may
be a hoax, and officials with the Department of State Health Services,
which oversees the cancer registry, say they don't believe the names,
dates of birth, Social Security numbers and personal medical information
contained in it were stolen. But if the FBI determines private records
were revealed, Suehs says, health officials will quickly notify the
people listed in the registry.
"This is an incident that makes everybody's antennas go a little bit
higher, and I'm using it as an opportunity to elevate our awareness of
our responsibility to protect information," Suehs says. "Nothing is
100-percent secure. But I think [most of] our systems, our processes,
worked. And that's the positive thing."
The security scare comes at a sensitive time for the state's health
agencies, which are making plans for an electronic superhighway to
exchange Texas medical records -- and expect an influx of federal
dollars to help do it. Privacy advocates are already nervous about
whether the state has the technology safeguards to keep these records
out of hackers' hands.
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