VA doctors' foray into cloud causes potential breach

Yahoo calendar held patient names, surgeries

The Veterans Affairs Department has ordered an immediate shutdown of a cloud application on the Yahoo website that VA doctors were using to store patients’ medical information without appropriate data security controls, officials said.

Notifications of a possible security breach will be sent to 878 patients, according to VA’s "Monthly Report to Congress on Data Incidents" for November, released by the department Dec. 22.

The breach, which is referred to as a mishandling of electronic information, came to the attention of VA's information security authorities on Nov. 23 when they discovered that physicians and employees in a VA hospital orthopedics department were maintaining a calendar of patient medical data on a Yahoo.com cloud application.


Related stories:

Unencrypted thumb drive causes breach at VA

VA data breach reports available online


The calendar has existed since 2007 and was protected by a single password shared by a number of people. The password had not been changed in the three years of operation.

The calendar contained full names, dates and types of surgery, and the last four digits of Social Security numbers for nearly 900 patients, the report states.

VA’s National Security Operations Center ordered the calendar to be closed Nov. 24. All entries were deleted, and the patients are to be notified of the possible breach.

Roger Baker, VA's assistant secretary for information and technology, said Dec. 22 the incident was an example of the need for better and more secure IT tools for VA employees, including cloud-based tools.

The report notes that all VA doctors have access to a secure VA network to store patient information and a Microsoft Excel application to schedule appointments and surgeries.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

Featured

  • Cybersecurity

    DHS floats 'collective defense' model for cybersecurity

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wants her department to have a more direct role in defending the private sector and critical infrastructure entities from cyberthreats.

  • Defense
    Defense Secretary James Mattis testifies at an April 12 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

    Mattis: Cloud deal not tailored for Amazon

    On Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to quell "rumors" that the Pentagon's planned single-award cloud acquisition was designed with Amazon Web Services in mind.

  • Census
    shutterstock image

    2020 Census to include citizenship question

    The Department of Commerce is breaking with recent practice and restoring a question about respondent citizenship last used in 1950, despite being urged not to by former Census directors and outside experts.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.