Tapes with patient information stolen

Tapes containing University of Miami hospital patient data and employee health benefit information were stolen from a storage company truck in downtown Coral Gables on March 17.

The tapes were stolen when the truck, which was transporting the tapes en route to an off-campus storage site in Florida, was in an area of Coral Gables that has recently experienced a number of petty thefts.

The university said patient information from the student Health Center on the Gables campus was not stolen.

“The stolen information is only data from patients that have seen a UM physician [from a UM hospital],” Jacqueline Menendez, vice president of communications, said.

The university notified the public of the incident last Thursday, stating that it is “highly unlikely” that the thief would be able to access the stolen tapes, because of their highly-secured encryption format.

Even if the security code was breached, the hacker would need additional data not stored on the tapes to retrieve readable information.

“We have no reason to believe there has been a breach,” Menendez said. “More than likely, the [thief] did not know what he was taking.

She added that police told UM that this is one in a series of random thefts in downtown Coral Gables and that the university is not worried about identity theft.

UM enlisted Terremark Worldwide, a leading security computer company, to test whether or not the company would be able to access the tapes. After attempting to access the tapes for over a week, Terremark reported that they had failed to do so.

“Because of the highly proprietary compression and encoding used in writing the tapes, we were unable to extract any usable data,” said Christopher Day, senior vice president of the Secure Information Services Group at Terremark.

The stolen tapes included UM employee health benefit information, in addition to names, addresses and Social Security numbers of anyone who has been a patient of a UM physician or visited a UM facility since Jan. 1, 1999.

While the university did not specify how many individuals may be affected by the theft, The Miami Herald reported Friday that the total could be close to 2.1 million people.

The university will notify by mail the 47,000 patients whose data may have included credit card or other financial information regarding bill payment, President Donna E. Shalala said in an announcement.

Coral Gables Police Department is working with UM to retrieve the stolen records.

For more information about this incident, visit www.dataincident.miami.edu or call 1-866-628-4492.

Eddie Fishman may be contacted at e.fishman1@umiami.edu and Erika Capek may be contacted at e.capek@umiami.edu.