How a healthcare hacker is pressuring victims to pay up

A hacker who claims to have stolen 10 million patient records is extorting victims for money

Pay up or face your patients' wrath.

That’s how one hacker is trying to shake down U.S. healthcare providers after stealing sensitive data about their patients.

TheDarkOverlord claims to have stolen 10 million patient records and is selling them on the black market. In the meantime, the hacker is trying to extort the providers by telling them their patient data won't be sold if they pay a ransom.

At least one of the healthcare providers so far has refused to give in, TheDarkOverlord said in an interview Friday. To apply pressure, the hacker claims to have called some of its patients to warn them their records will be leaked if the provider doesn't pay up.

“How upset would you be if your provider failed to protect your sensitive healthcare information?” the hacker said, in an encrypted chat conducted through the Jabber messaging service.

That's the dilemma facing several healthcare providers whose servers were compromised -- should they pay a ransom, or risk their patients' data being exposed?

TheDarkOverlord claims to have stolen social security numbers, phone numbers, and addresses of millions of patients, all of which could be used for identity theft. The records come from healthcare providers across the U.S. and are being sold in batches on the black market for up to $134,000.

The hacker has told the healthcare providers to pay by a certain date or see their data sold. To add further pressure, TheDarkOverlord has set up a Twitter account where firms are named if they don't meet the demands. 

InfoArmor has been investigating the breaches and says the stolen data is real. The hacker targeted the healthcare providers’ remote administration channels and may even have siphoned off data from MRI and X-ray machines, the security firm says.

InfoArmor is advising health providers not to pay the ransom, since they could end up being tricked or forced to pay more money in the future. Instead, InfoArmor says they should alert law enforcement agencies as soon as possible.

“Never trust any cybercriminal,” InfoArmor’s CIO, Andrew Komarov, said via email.

Nevertheless, TheDarkOverLord is still trying to compel his victims to pay. The hacker claims to have asked one of the healthcare providers to fork over about $168,000, and said the ransom hasn't been paid. As a result, the hacker said, several copies of its patient data, including 48,000 patient records, will soon be sold.

In addition to patient records, TheDarkOverLord also claims to have stolen source code, signing keys and a licensing database from a provider of healthcare software. The total package is on sale for about $537,000.

A danger there is that the signing keys could be used to craft malware that appears to be legitimate software, making it hard for antivirus programs to detect, InfoArmor said.

The developer of the software, PilotFish Technology, declined to comment.

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