A Dutch security researcher has stumbled across nine data leak incidents involving medical records belonging to cca 200,000 patients, and possibly many more – all due to developer blunders on GitHub repositories.
Jelle Ursem, an ethical hacker from the Netherlands, together with Databreaches.net, have released a joint report detailing nine data leak incidents at various healthcare providers, one health plan, as well as business associates or in third-party relationships, all serving the medical sector.
On the popular software developer platform GitHub, Ursem discovered with a few simple searches that an alarming amount of sensitive data, including login credentials, had been left exposed by negligent developers. Months after his initial investigation into the leaks, Ursem teamed up with Databreaches.net to put together a paper and disclose some of his findings concerning leaks of protected health information on GitHub – but not before responsibly disclosing his findings to the affected entities.
Only three of the of the nine affected entities responded to the researchers’ disclosure and patched their blunders. Some ignored his findings, while others even threatened to pursue legal action against him – despite Ursem disclosing his findings responsibly and giving the affected entities enough time to address the leaks.
The report mentions nine U.S. entities’ leaks of PHI, including Xybion, MedPro Billing, Texas Physician House Calls, VirMedica, MaineCare, Waystar, Shields Health Care Group, AccQData, and one entity left unnamed as one of the leaks had yet to be secured at the time the report went live.
“For the 9 leaks, there were approximately 150,000 – 200,000 unique patients’ records exposed, and possibly many, many more, because Ursem did not sample or access everything that was exposed,” Databreaches.net reports.
All the leaks allegedly occurred because developers:
- embedded hard-coded login credentials in their code instead of making it a configuration option on the server the code runs on
- used public repositories instead of private repositories
- failed to use two-factor or multifactor authentication for email accounts and/or abandoned repositories instead of deleting them when no longer needed
- Service providers also increased the risk of leaks by failing to deploy IP address whitelists, not enforcing password resets, and not providing responsible disclosure mechanism.
For those interested in staying abreast of common misconfigurations and best development practices, the full report can be found here: ‘No need to hack when it’s leaking – GitHub Healthcare Leaks – Protected Health Information on the Public Web.’