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IT Specialist Gets 13 Months in Prison for Stealing Data from Competing Medical Practice

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of California announced on Tuesday that Eric McNeal, 38, of Atlanta, Georgia, had been sentenced for “hacking” into a competing medical practice and accessing the personal information of patients in order to send marketing materials to the patients.

McNeal, who pleaded guilty to the charge on September 2011, was sentenced thirteen months in prison and three years of supervised release, along with 120 hours of community service.

“Anyone who gives their personal information to a doctor or medical facility does not expect that their information will be hacked and used to make money,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “This is cybercrime. Electronic information is bought, sold and stolen, often by someone who knows a system and, with a few keystrokes, makes our community vulnerable.”

According to the charges and other court documents, McNeal was an IT Specialist for “A.P.A.,” a perinatal medical practice in Atlanta. He reportedly left his job at A.P.A. in November 2009, and subsequently joined a competing medical practice located in the same building as A.P.A. In April 2010, McNeal used his home computer to access A.P.A.’s patient database without authorization. From there he downloaded information including the names, telephone numbers, and addresses of A.P.A.’s patients, and then “wiped” A.P.A.’s database, deleting all the patient information from A.P.A.’s system.

McNeal followed a direct-mail marketing campaign for the benefit of his new employer using the patient names and contact information he stole.

This case wasn’t likely a “hacking” incident in which McNeal used techniques to bypass security measures or exploit vulnerabilities to compromise a network, it was likely a case of his former employer not restricting access after he left the company.

A recent study from HP and the Ponemon Institute examined the potential problems with user access and policy enforcement and showed that unchecked access to data is a significant issue. Not only do many companies forget to disable access for employees who leave, many give employees access to data beyond the scope of their job requirements.