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11GB of Sensitive Data Left Unprotected by Department of Defense Subcontractor

A security researcher has discovered that the sensitive data of psychologists, doctors and other health workers employed by the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) have been exposed on the Internet by Woodbridge, VA-based Potomac Healthcare, a subcontractor for the Department of Defense. Potomac Healthcare supplies health workers to government organizations through Booz Allen Hamilton.

Chris Vickery of MacKeeper discovered 11GB of internal Potomac data were left unprotected and could be accessed over the Internet without a username or a password. The data included names, Social Security numbers, locations, assigned units, and salaries of psychologists, doctors, and other healthcare professionals. The files also included lists of websites and programs with their associated usernames and passwords. Vickery said that the details of at least two Special Forces data analysts who had “Top Secret government clearance” were also present in the data.

It is unclear for how long the data had been exposed and whether any other individuals had gained access to the information. Vickery reports on his blog that after notifying Potomac Healthcare of issue, the data were still available online an hour later. Only when the issue was escalated and reported to ‘Potomac’s boss’ was the information secured and access prevented. That happened within 30 minutes of the phone call.

According to Vickery, he discovered an “unprotected remote synchronization service was active at an IP address tied to Potomac.” The data were allegedly made available to the public via the Internet as a result of a misconfigured data backup.

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Potomac Healthcare issued a statement to Threatpost saying that after being notified of the breach by Vickery, “we immediately initiated an internal review and brought in an external forensic IT firm for additional support.”

Potomac Healthcare also confirmed that the investigation into the security breach is ongoing and that aside from Vickery, “we have no indication that any sensitive government information was compromised.”

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.