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Palo Alto, CA — April 2012. A dentist noticed his office computer acting strange. Patient X-rays were not accessible. His database was hacked, corrupted. According to Palo Alto police Sgt. James Reifschneider, a ransom demand of $3,000 was emailed to the dentist in exchange for his original database. The dentist refused. A secured IT professional reconstructs as much lost data as possible. The dental hacker remains at large.
Hackers crack email passwords and wireless digital data like we watch TV. They hijack our email account, typically sending everyone we’ve ever emailed a money-making scam letter or spyware virus.
This article is the second of a two-part series on responsible behavior in the digital realm. Restoring credibility and reducing vulnerability after your email is hacked requires action.
Not responding may appear unprofessional. Your account may continue “e-harassing” patients about pharmaceuticals or worse. Here are four different levels of responses, the simple to the comprehensive.
One social media message. When Naperville resident Joan Doyle heard from friends that she was emailing them spam, she bristled. “I envisioned a bunch of disaffected 20-year-olds living in their parents’ basements, wreaking havoc for kicks. I put an announcement on Facebook.”
All electronic means of notification. Elizabeth Wheeler, a faculty member at Chicago’s Robert Morris University, explained that dentists should go beyond posting the news in one place and make use of any kind of media (FB, webpage, etc.). “Because they have so many patients, emailing from the account that was hacked is best. And in that email include a new email address for the dentist. This way, the patient knows which email account the doctor is referring to, as opposed to emailing from a new account; you may have patients delete the email from an unknown ‘new’ email address.”
No more emails; use phone or letters. “Your patient base is your most important asset, so communicate what happened, and what you are doing to remedy the attack,” advised Scott Schober, President and CEO of Berkeley Varitronics Systems in Metuchen, NJ. “Call them personally, do not send a mass email apologizing. If the base is too large to effectively call, then try an old fashioned letter.”
Hire a professional service to send notification. Illinois’ Personal Information Protection Act1 — thick with details of secure patient information compliance and data breach notifications — compels some dentists to hire professional risk mitigation response companies. Sheila Davis, Assistant Vice President of Claims and Risk Management at TDIC in Sacramento, said her company just paid out $44,000 for a hacked dentist’s forensic investigation, mailed notifications and credit monitoring services for nine patients’ compromised data. “He took the images of their smiles and faces on a mobile device to do the workup at home and it was stolen. You don’t always realize the magnitude and significance of the data you capture and store.” Using security products (Symantec’s PGP software, etc.) can encrypt emails and log-ins, said Ms. Davis, who advises dentists to check if their insurance covers data compromise.
A survey of 2,618 business leaders in May 20122 reported the typical business is cyber attacked an average of 79 times weekly. If a malfactor controls your email, a more sophisticated password is needed ASAP.
Karen Hickman, an etiquette and protocol consultant at Professional Courtesy in Fort Wayne, IN, said she contacts the sender of emails without subject lines and nothing but links. “I don’t sound accusatory with ‘you sent me spam.’ Rather, I politely explain I received an email that looked a little suspicious, please confirm this is from you before I click any links.”
Snopes.com remains a viable hub to check for reports of scams via emails; that’s where I learned that a former coworker’s emailed plea for money after being mugged in Nigeria was sent in bulk.
Dentists should purge old data contacts to minimize the impact of a spamming, said Mr. Schober. “Also, do not use free public WiFi and turn it off, including your Bluetooth, to prevent your devices and their access points from being discoverable by other enabled devices.”
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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