Unknown number of British Columbians' personal information for sale online after health company extorted
CTV News has learned the personal information of British Columbians has been leaked online, with an unknown number of people and agencies potentially still vulnerable, after a data breach at a mental health services provider.
Homewood Health, headquartered in Ontario with services and contracts across Canada, acknowledges it was hacked earlier this year and has recently begun contacting affected companies and agencies whose information may be compromised, including BC Housing, TransLink and the Provincial Health Services Authority.
CTV News has confirmed at least some of the information leaked online is authentic, though the bulk of the data is still on the auction block at Marketo, a site that describes itself as a "leaked data marketplace."
There appear to be hundreds of bids from prospective buyers.
“With the assistance of cybersecurity experts, we have been working diligently to understand how the information was obtained and what information has been affected,” wrote a Homewood Health spokesperson, blaming the breach on state-sponsored Chinese hackers, called Hafnium, who victimized thousands of companies earlier this year. “To date, neither Homewood Health nor its third-party cybersecurity experts have been able to find any evidence of any unauthorized access to any of Homewood Health’s client application systems.”
The company would not estimate how many people’s information could be compromised, insisting while they were notifying affected individuals as quickly as possible, “this process will take time.” They provide services ranging from career and family counselling, to mental health and addiction support and operate retreats for extended stays.
B.C. AGENCIES NOTIFIED OF DATA BREACH
BC Housing appears to be the agency most impacted thus far.
Personal information of hundreds of employees has already been leaked online as a “teaser” or sample of the kind of material the hackers possess, which the provide to try and verify the authenticity and value of the rest of the data package.
“We are very concerned that Homewood Health documents containing the personal information of our employees, and potentially their family members, have been compromised in a data incident,” wrote a spokesperson. “It is Homewood Health that was breached, and they must take steps to protect all those involved.”
The agency, which is focused on providing and running affordable and supportive housing, goes on to say that it's still waiting for critical information from Homewood Health, including how many people and how much information could be involved – and what kind of supports it will be providing for impacted employees.
The sample package also includes a contract between Homewood and TransLink, plus a document updating a previous agreement with BC Clinical Support Services, which is overseen by PHSA.
“We have been in communication with Homewood Health and they have assured us that there was no PHSA employee/patient information included in the breach they are managing,” wrote a spokesperson. “This contains purely contractual information and does not contain any personal information.”
TransLink said it was aware of the information for sale.
“This agreement does not contain any personal information of employees of TransLink or any of its subsidiaries,” it said in an email. “We have since been in contact with Homewood Health, and given that this is their active investigation, we will direct all questions to them."
A Homewood Health representative said the hackers had tried to extort the company over the information, characterizing it as a “dark web” scheme, but the Marketo website can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.
“This isn't only on the dark web, Marketo group's site exists on the clear web too, so it's very easily accessed," explained online threat analyst Brett Callow, who works for Emsisoft on Vancouver Island. “These types of incidents are extremely common and there are about 2,500 organizations that have had their data stolen and published on sites like this -- and that just within the last couple of years."
THE HACKERS SPEAK UP
Marketo, which has the same name as an online marketing company by Adobe but bears no connection, calls itself a “leaked data marketplace” but it’s perhaps more accurate to describe it as an online clearinghouse for stolen information. The first and most prominent listing currently on its website is for Homewood Health, and it shows that 289 bids have purportedly been made for the information so far.
When CTV News contacted the site, a representative countered Homewood’s description of events, insisting they researched the weaknesses of Homewood Health and other companies and attacked them directly, insisting they did not acquire the data as part of the Hafnium hack.
“I got to say it right away that we just sell company data. We do not have the intention to harm customers or clients of this company,” wrote a spokesperson identifying themselves as Mannus Gott. “If the company understands and is willing to accept responsibility for the leak, there will be no publication. Otherwise, we are not responsible for the safety of this data.”
They say on Thursday, some of the data will be sold and the rest will be published.
Homewood says it has contacted police and has hired its own investigators and experts to advise them.
While extortion and blackmail of companies facing data breaches has become more and more common, it can be shocking and stressful for individuals caught up in the scheme.
"They should be reasonably concerned,” said Callow, suggesting they contact their banks to warn them if notified by Homewood. “The data that's out there could potentially be used for data theft and given the type of information Homewood may own, it could potentially be used to blackmail individuals as well, or attempt to."
Callow pointed out companies that’ve been breached will typically pay for customers to have monitoring in place after such a breach, adding this should be a reminder for individuals, companies and other organizations to take the utmost care in safeguarding their information, including using patches, updates and opting for multi-factor authentication whenever available.
Vancouver Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole refused to say Thursday whether he still thinks Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has handled the pandemic better than the federal government, as the province faces a rapidly worsening COVID-19 situation.
Health Canada has authorized brand name changes for three COVID-19 vaccines. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will now be named Comirnaty, the Moderna vaccine will be named SpikeVax, and the AstraZeneca vaccine will be named Vaxzevria, Health Canada said in a tweet Thursday.
Vaccine mandate protesters' use of Nazi imagery and comparisons to the Holocaust is angering Jewish organizations.
The truth of the fourth wave of COVID-19 in Canada is starkly clear inside the intensive care unit at Hamilton General, where the majority of the COVID-19 patients struggling on life support are young — and unvaccinated.
Albertans woke up Thursday to new restrictions implemented by the province to slow the spread of COVID-19.
A man who was abducted early Thursday morning has been located with life-threatening injuries following a shooting and home invasion that left one of his sons dead and another in critical condition, Hamilton police say.
A question at the English-language federal leaders' debate last week has become a major issue in Quebec, boosting the Bloc Quebecois in the polls and drawing criticism from Quebec politicians, federal party leaders and the province's media.
With less then a week until election day, former U.S. president Barack Obama has waded into the fray to bolster the campaign of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
A new "high-speed" passenger ferry service is coming to Nanaimo, which will connect the city's downtown core with downtown Vancouver.
Norman, a large mastiff from Nanaimo that has been credited in saving the lives of at least 16 dogs with emergency blood donations, is now in need of help himself.
Barbara Blakey's family had gathered to celebrate a family wedding, but just days before the ceremony, 72-year-old Harry Charles Blakey died in his Parksville home.
LIVE at 3:30
LIVE at 3:30 | Hinshaw, Yiu to give COVID-19 update Thursday afternoon
Alberta health officials will give a COVID-19 update Thursday afternoon, a day after the province introduced new restrictions and a vaccine passport.
Alberta doctors are imploring the province to take the pandemic more seriously in the wake of new restrictions and are calling out Premier Kenney for his claims that the COVID-19 virus was 'not predictable.'
If you live in Alberta and woke up extra early Thursday morning to print out your new vaccine status card, you may have noticed you can't… at least, not yet.
LIVE at 3:30 | Hinshaw, Yiu to give COVID-19 update Thursday afternoon
Police seek eight suspects in violent protest outside 14 Division following clearing of homeless encampment
Police have arrested three people in connection with a violent protest that took place outside 14 Division following the clearing of a homeless encampment earlier this summer.
The Toronto International Film Festival is reporting a case of COVID-19 in an audience member who attended press and industry screenings.
Quebec's Ministry of Health reported Thursday that 782 more people have tested positive for COVID-19, and two more people have died due to the disease.
A spokesperson for the hospital said the man's condition "deteriorated rapidly."
Manitoba public health officials reported 64 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday – including 36 unvaccinated cases, 20 fully vaccinated cases and eight partially vaccinated cases.
There are officially two names vying to become the next leader of Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative Party next month.
A St. Boniface park could be getting a name change as its current one has been deemed offensive to Indigenous people in an application to the Welcoming Winnipeg Committee.
A Saskatchewan ICU doctor says the healthcare system is “stretched” and doctors have to make difficult calls as the number of COVID-19 cases rises.
UPDATED | Proof of vaccination program announced in Alberta as state of public health emergency declared
The government of Alberta has joined other provinces across Canada in announcing a proof of vaccination program as COVID-19 cases continue to soar to well over a thousand per day.
Regina city council is pushing back its target date to require proof of vaccination from people entering city facilities.
Aaron Genest's Grade 10 son sat in three different classrooms at a Saskatoon high school over three days with a student who later tested positive for COVID-19.
Health officials in Nova Scotia are reporting 34 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, along with 20 recoveries, as the number of active cases in the province rises to 173.
P.E.I. reports seven new cases of COVID-19 related to elementary school outbreak Thursday; active cases rise to record 34
Health officials in Prince Edward Island are reporting seven new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday as the active number of cases in the province rises to 34 - the highest number of cases in the province since the pandemic began.
N.B. reports 51 new COVID-19 cases; 92 per cent of which are among people who are not fully vaccinated
New Brunswick Public Health reported 51 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, including 47 – or 92 per cent – among people who are not fully vaccinated.
The medical officer of health for the Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU) isn’t concerned about the renaming of the COVID-19 vaccines in Canada
The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) is reporting 33 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, but no new deaths.
One person has died following an early morning collision west of Exeter, Ont.
A Sudbury court has sentenced Steffin Rees, 19, to 15 years in jail Thursday for a fatal stabbing in 2019 in downtown Sudbury.
A 56-year-old man from Newfoundland has been charged with impaired driving of a helicopter in North Bay, Ont.
Sudbury police are looking for a suspect in a stabbing after two women were approached on a walking path in downtown Sudbury that resulted in one sustaining serious injuries.
Health officials in Waterloo Region reported 35 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday.
Just over a week into the new school year, Waterloo Region’s school boards have released COVID-19 vaccination figures for their employees.
A man living in a Brantford retirement home has been charged with manslaughter in connection to the death of another resident at the home.