Mental Health Center Targeted by Disruptions, Quarter of a Million Exposures

  • By Steven
  • Published: Jan 16, 2024
  • Last Updated: Jan 17, 2024

The Harris Center for Mental Health

The Harris Center for Mental Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) has six regional locations and assists those with behavioral health and developmental needs. Every year, they serve thousands within Harris County and deliver over a million services nationwide. In November, Harris experienced a network disruption; an unauthorized actor accessed and compromised the data of 238,463 individuals within Harris’ network. 

How Did the Attack Occur? 

Despite the attack in November, the Notice of Data Security Incident published by Harris offers little about the event. According to it, an unauthorized actor accessed Harris’ network and disrupted their services. Upon learning of the disruptions, officials launched an investigation. The notice suggests that officials were either investigating data left by the attacker within the network or investigating data that the attacker had severed. We can only speculate until more information is made public. 

What Information Was Viewed or Stolen? 

Harris’ notice states that the information exposed in this event differs between individuals, but all victims are at risk for data misuse due to this incident. The exposed data may include individuals’ names, contact data (like residential addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses), personally identifying information (including birthdays, Social Security Numbers, alien registration numbers, driver’s licenses, and state ID numbers), financial account data, and medical information (including Medicare and Medicaid ID numbers, health insurance credentials, provider names, treatment costs, diagnoses and treatments, prescriptions, and medical records or case numbers). Due to the sensitive data elements exposed by this event, victims must take action to safeguard their information.

How Did The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD Admit to the Breach? 

According to the notice, their preliminary internal investigation found the unauthorized actor accessed the network in early November. Around November 6th, 2023, the threat actor accessed and potentially released or encrypted data within the network. A day later, officials experienced disruptions, prompting a response to the threat. On or around January 5th, officials notified the Department of Health and Human Services of the event. 

What Will Become of the Stolen Information? 

It is unclear how the bad actors may use the stolen data from this event; however, they have a range of possibilities with the data elements they may have accessed. From a victim’s name and contact data, they can impersonate the victim and phish for account information from acquaintances. Cybercriminals can commit identity fraud from a victim’s personally identifying data, potentially lining the victim up for legal ramifications. From a victim’s financial data, a criminal can open new accounts or loans, steal money, or use the accounts in wire transfer schemes. Finally, hackers can commit medical fraud using a victim’s medical information, stealing the services reserved for a community, and potentially putting the victim in physical danger. 

What Should Affected Parties Do in the Aftermath of the Breach? 

The sensitive data compromised in this breach has two classifications: data that can be changed, like phone numbers and emails, and data that cannot be changed, like medical details and Social Security Numbers. Victims with changeable data exposed in this event should consider altering the information and securing their accounts with complex passwords and security options like multi-factor authentications. Meanwhile, victims with non-changeable data from this breach must take steps to guard their accounts. Account monitoring services exist to help mitigate the consequences of data breaches; they’ll alert the victim to any suspicious activity within their account and help return the victim to a secure status. Don’t wait for a physical notice to start protecting your data and yourself.

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