Singapore Data Leak of Records of 14,200 HIV Patients Blamed on U.S. Citizen

By Saket Sundria | January 29, 2019

Records of as many as 14,200 people with HIV and their 2,400 contacts have been “illegally disclosed online”, Singapore’s health ministry said in a statement, marking the second cyber attack the city-state has suffered in a year.

The HIV-registry data was leaked by a U.S. citizen, Mikhy K. Farrera Brochez, who was deported from Singapore after serving jail time for fraud and drug-related offenses, the ministry said. The leaked information included names, test results and contact details of 5,400 Singaporean citizens and 8,800 foreigners.

The latest data spill comes less than a year after a cyber attack on SingHealth that had exposed the medical data of about 1.5 million people, including outpatient details of the Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. This breach is especially problematic since it compromises the identity of those living with HIV in a region which there’s still a lot of social stigma around the condition.

“While access to the confidential information has been disabled, it is still in the possession of the unauthorized person, and could still be publicly disclosed in the future,” the ministry said in a statement. The ministry is scanning the Internet for signs of further disclosure of the breached information.

Singapore’s laws prohibit the disclosure of a patient’s HIV status and related data, without the person’s consent except under certain circumstances.

Malicious Hacks

The attacks underscore the difficulties companies and governments face in protecting private details of consumers against malicious hacks. In 2017, the global WannaCry ransomware attack crippled parts of the U.K.’s National Health Service for days. In a 2015 hack, U.S. health insurance giant Anthem Inc. had about 79 million customers’ personal information exposed.

The alleged culprit, Farrera-Brochez, was the boyfriend of a doctor heading Singapore’s National Public Health unit who was also convicted in 2018 of abetting Brochez’s actions and providing false information to government agencies, according to the ministry statement.

Singapore had nearly 8,000 Singapore residents living with HIV in 2017, according to figures released last year. Singapore posts about 450 new HIV cases annually, a number that has been consistent since 2008. Most of the new cases involved men, according to the report.

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