Stolen computer compromises Sutter security

November 16, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Sutter has set up a help line so patients can find out of their data was compromised by the theft.

There's been a major security breach involving the data of millions of Sutter Health patients. While no social security numbers were on that stolen computer, many personal details about patients' conditions were.

Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley is one of the hospitals affected by this breach. An unencrypted desktop computer was stolen from Sutter Health's administrative offices in Sacramento in mid-October. Police were notified.

"I do believe this was crime of opportunity and not targeted theft of data," said John Manis, Sutter's chief information officer.

However, the records of over four million patients were compromised. For 3.3 million of them, the thieves got names, addresses, birthdates, phone numbers, and some insurance information.

But another 943,000 Sutter patients also had information about their dates of service and medical diagnoses or procedures stolen. They will get letters from Sutter in the coming weeks warning them about the data theft. The stolen computer did not contain financial information or social security numbers.

"Now that this is out there who knows who has it or who will get it," said Sutter patient Valerie McColloch. "Once they know what they have in their possession they might find somebody who can extract that information so that they can bring in more money."

And that's the fear -- the data could be used by identity thieves, who by phishing online could swindle patients into giving them things like credit card or social security numbers.

Included in the stolen computer was patient information from many Bay Area Sutter physician groups as well as Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley, San Leandro Hospital, Eden Medical Center, and Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa.

Sutter has set up a special phone number for patients to find out if they have been affected by the security breach.


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