NY Attorney General Fines Arc of Erie County $200,000 for Security Breach

The Arc of Erie County has been fined $200,000 by the New York Attorney General for violating HIPAA Rules by failing to secure the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of its clients.

In February 2018, The Arc of Erie County, a nonprofit social services agency and chapter of the The Arc Of New York, was notified by a member of the public that some of its clients’ sensitive personal information was accessible through its website. The information could also be found through search engines.

The investigation into the security breach revealed sensitive information had been accessible online for two and a half years, from July 2015 to February 2018 when the error was corrected. The forensic investigation into the security incident revealed multiple individuals from outside the United States had accessed the information on several occasions. The webpage should only have been accessible internally by staff authorized to view ePHI and should have required a username and password to be entered before access to the data could be gained.

In total, 3,751 clients in New York had information such as their full name, address, phone number, age, date of birth, gender, race, primary diagnosis code, IQ, health insurance information, and Social Security number exposed. Those individuals were notified of the breach on March 9, 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights was informed, and a breach report was submitted to the New York Attorney General’s office.

Under HIPAA, The Arc of Erie County is required to safeguard the ePHI of its clients and prevent that information from being accessed by unauthorized individuals. The investigation into the breach by the New York Attorney General’s office confirmed that HIPAA Rules had been violated as appropriate physical, technical, and administrative safeguards had not been implemented to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI. As a result of that failure, there had been an impermissible disclosure of clients ePHI.

“The Arc of Erie County’s work serves our most vulnerable New Yorkers – and that comes with the responsibility to protect them and their sensitive personal information,” said New York Attorney General Barbara. D. Underwood. “This settlement should provide a model to all charities in protecting their communities’ personal information online.”

In addition to paying a financial penalty of $200,000, The Arc of Erie County has agreed to adopt a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) that includes the requirement to conduct a thorough risk analysis to identify all security risks and vulnerabilities affecting its electronic equipment and data systems. A report of that assessment must be submitted to the New York Attorney General’s office within 180 days. Any vulnerabilities identified must be corrected through a HIPAA-compliance risk management process and policies and procedures must also be reviewed and revised, based on the findings of the risk analysis.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.