Security Experts:

Montana Notifying 1.3 Million After State Health Agency Server Hacked

Officials in Montana are notifying 1.3 million people impacted by a data breach affecting the state's Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS).

The state is notifying individuals affected by the breach, which occurred when hackers compromised a DPHHS server. So far, the state said it has not turned up evidence that any information was accessed or used inappropriately.

The server contained demographic information such as names, addresses, dates of birth and social security numbers, as well as information about DPHHS services clients applied for and or received. Because the information held on the server for each client is different, client information may also include data related to health assessments, diagnoses, treatment, health conditions, prescriptions and insurance. The incident is not expected by state officials to impact DPHHS services, since none of the information on the server was lost and the agency has it backed up.

"Out of an abundance of caution, we are notifying those whose personal information could have been on the server," said DPHHS Director Richard Opper, in a statement. "Again, we have no reports, nor do we have any evidence that anyone's information was used in any way, or even accessed."

DPHHS contractors and current and former employees are being notified because the data on the server may include their names, addresses, dates of birth, social security numbers, bank account information and dates of service.

On May 15, the state ordered a forensic investor to assess the situation after suspicious activity was detected. Seven days later, the investigator determined the server had been hacked. Immediately afterwards, the server was shut down, and law enforcement was notified, according to state officials. According to reports, the breach goes all the way back to July 2013.

"Typically medical records are stolen with the intent of committing identity theft," said Tom Cross, director of security research at Lancope. "The criminals will apply for credit in the victim's name, spend the money, and never repay it. Ultimately, the victim's credit may be damaged or they may be contacted by bill collectors. Fortunately, victims of identity theft can work with credit reporting agencies to remove fraudulent transactions from their credit reports."

Montana is notifying individuals of free credit monitoring and identity protection insurance. Anyone who receives a letter is eligible. The letters also include instructions about how to sign up for the service.

"I encourage Montanans who are notified to sign up for the free credit monitoring and insurance that is being provided," Opper said.

The state said it has taken a number of steps to improve security, including adding additional security software servers and reviewing security practices. 

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