Misdirected spyware infects Ohio hospital

Information on 62 patients was exposed after spyware was allegedly sent via Yahoo mail

It was a bad idea from the start, but even as bad ideas go, this one went horribly wrong.

A 38-year-old Avon Lake, Ohio, man is set to plead guilty to federal charges after spyware he allegedly meant to install on the computer of a woman he'd had a relationship with ended up infecting computers at Akron Children's Hospital.

In late February 2008, Scott Graham shelled out US$115 for a spyware program called SpyAgent and sent it to the woman, according to a plea agreement filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northeastern District of Ohio.

He allegedly sent the spyware to the woman's Yahoo e-mail address, hoping that it would give him a way to monitor what she was doing on her PC. But instead, she opened the spyware on a computer in the hospital's pediatric cardiac surgery department, creating a regulatory nightmare for the hospital.

The complaint does not explain how Graham managed to convince the woman to install the program, but clever attackers often trick their victims into clicking on files by saying that they are interesting videos or some kind of useful software.

Between March 19 and March 28 the spyware sent more than 1,000 screen captures to Graham via e-mail.

They included details of medical procedures, diagnostic notes and other confidential information relating to 62 hospital patients.

He was also able to obtain e-mail and financial records of four other hospital employees as well, the plea agreement states.

Graham, who is set to formally enter a guilty plea on Sept. 30 to one count of illegally intercepting electronic communications, will pay $33,000 to the hospital for damages caused by the incident. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

"While Scott Graham does take responsibility for his conduct, it was never his intention to harm any organization or entity," said his attorney, Ian Friedman, in a telephone interview.

"He had to learn the hard way that what may be advertised on the Internet doesn't necessary produce what's promised."

Products such as SpyAgent are marketed as legitimate tools to help employers or worried parents keep track of what's going on with their computers, but they can easily be misused to spy on innocent victims, said Eric Howes, director of research services with antivirus company Sunbelt Software.

His company flags SpyAgent as a "commercial keylogger."

"Our enterprise customers are concerned about these kinds of tools being used in an unauthorized fashion on their networks," Howes said.

"They have completely legitimate uses, but if I went home and found a copy of [this type of software] on my computer, I would be concerned. "

Still Howes faulted the hospital's IT staff for allowing someone to download spyware from Yahoo mail and install it on their systems.

"That points to a security failing at that hospital, but then they aren't that different from 99 percent of companies out there," he said.

Many companies block workers from accessing personal Web sites such as Yahoo or Facebook.

The U.S. attorney prosecuting this case, Robert Kern, did not return messages seeking comment. A spokeswoman with the Akron Children's Hospital was unaware of the case and unable to comment.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags medical recordskeyloggerhospitalspywareprivacy

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?