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A security researcher discovered an unsecured online storage server—an all-too-common occurrence known as an accidental overexposure—that linked to 4.9 million lines of patient records from an addiction treatment center called Steps to Recovery. Those millions of lines of information were not all for separate patients, but rather were separate entries on almost 150,000 of the same patients, outlining their medical treatment.

When it comes to data breaches and hacking, personally identifiable information like Social Security numbers are considered the “holy grail” of theft. Credit card information or emails are still very valuable and useful—since the card numbers make purchases until the bank shuts them down, or the email address can be sold to spammers—but Social Security numbers are permanent. With the intact data set of identifying information (PII), a thief can sell the complete records or use them to open new lines of credit in someone’s name, potentially forever.

Unfortunately, a Social Security number is not the very worst PII that can be exposed to hackers. As one report has now demonstrated, leaked patient medical treatment records can have a far more harmful effect, making the victim wish that it was “just” their Social Security number that had been stolen.

There is an unfortunate stigma that still surrounds addiction and mental health, and the possibilities are nightmarish for what a hacker could have done with this information. Whether through blackmail by threatening to expose the patients’ treatment or using the information to target them with malicious content, there are no words to describe how this could have brought harm to vulnerable people who sought help for their conditions.

Fortunately, the discovery was made by a security researcher who then contacted both Steps to Recovery and the company that hosts the treatment center’s online server. While the hosting company responded to confirm that the treatment center took down the information, Steps to Recovery never responded to the researcher’s request for information concerning patient notification. It is still not known whether the center ever informed the patients about the leak.

In order to demonstrate just how serious this is, the researcher went a little further. By cross-matching patient records that were left wide open online with basic, free Google searches, he was able to find a reasonable match for a sampling of patients listed in the leak. Those results provided names, addresses, family members’ names, ages, phone numbers and email addresses, and even political affiliations. This demonstrates just how dangerous this leak truly was, and hopefully the patients have now been informed of the situation.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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Social media has changed the way people interact with each other in both good ways and bad ways. It’s amazing to connect with people all around the world or to find a long-lost classmate from seventh grade. It’s something else altogether, though, to find yourself in a compromising situation because of something you posted online.

One of the more recent features of different social media sites like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter is the ability to broadcast live video to your followers. This feature can be fun and entertaining or even educational, but if you’re not sure how the platform works or what kind of surroundings you’re broadcasting from, you may be unhappy with the results.

1. How long is my video accessible, and who can see it? – Those questions depend on the platform you’re using. Twitter’s Periscope or the Meerkat platform, for example, are available to anyone who chooses to click on your name. Facebook Live can be limited, meaning you can broadcast to everyone or just to your friend’s list. Instagram Live, though, is by default set to allow anyone to see your video; you have to adjust that setting yourself if you want to keep it private.

As far as how long the video is available, there are key differences you should know before you press the button to go live. Instagram Live videos are gone the moment the camera turns off, but Facebook Live videos can repeatedly be viewed and at a later time.

2. What’s going on around you? – You’ve probably seen some viral videos with hilarious background images, such as an adorable wedding couple sharing the first kiss during their beach ceremony only to have a man in a tiny swimsuit standing behind them. It’s not so funny when the visible area behind your video contains anything incriminating, illegal or simply embarrassing.

Remember, depending on the platform and the settings, you might not control who can see your video. If anything behind you is a dead giveaway for your location, any of your identifying information or even the answers to typical security questions (i.e., posting a video on your birthday and mentioning it), you might be sharing far more than you intended.

3. Is this content allowed? – Each platform has regulations for what is and isn’t permitted, and it’s up to you as the user to know what they are. Obviously, behavior that violates copyright—like broadcasting live from a concert, movie, or other ticket-holder events—is a no-no; even if you don’t necessarily get in trouble, it’s still theft, and it’s wrong. Broadcasting live for anything other than journalistic reasons from a crime in progress can also land you in hot water with both the platform and law enforcement.

If you want to go live on social media, you need to be smart. Know how your platform works, understand your privacy settings and surroundings, and make sure it’s approved, beneficial content… then smile for the camera and enjoy!


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.