Anthem Just Got Hacked. This Is What You Need to Do to Protect Your Identity.
The second largest health insurer in the United States, Anthem Inc., has disclosed that it has been the latest victim of a massive hack. Social Security numbers, birthdays, addresses and more was retrieved from databases that stored information for tens of millions of Americans.
Anthem didn’t specify how many consumer records may have been breached, but it did say that all of the company’s business units were affected.
By looking at the figures from Anthem’s website, however, we can estimate how big this breach could be: “With nearly 69 million people served by its affiliated companies including more than 37 million enrolled in its family of health plans, Anthem is one of the nation’s leading health benefits companies.”
The company said it is conducting an extensive IT forensic investigation alongside the FBI to determine what members are impacted.
“We are working around the clock to determine how many people have been impacted and will notify all Anthem members who are impacted through a written communication,” the company stated in a question and answer page regarding the breach.
While there is currently no evidence that financial or medical information was compromised, the information that was breached is enough to commit identity theft or bypass questions to lock you out of existing accounts. And the risk isn’t short term, an attacker could sit on this information for years before deciding to use it.
The following steps, however, can be taken to protect yourself.
1. Monitor all existing accounts.
Keep an eye out for someone using this stolen information to trick a call center into letting them take over or transfer money out of existing accounts (they can bypass security questions with the last four digits of your SS number or street address). Watch for any unauthorized activity or transfers on your current financial accounts, including 401k or brokerage accounts.
2. Sign up for credit alerts and identity theft protection.
Anthem has pledged to offer free credit monitoring and identity protection services to all affected customers. These services will keep an eye on your reports for known indicators of identity theft and send you alerts, look for changes of address and alert you when someone else tries to use your identity.
But you shouldn’t wait for Anthem to complete its investigation as it could be some time until individuals are informed (especially since members will be notified via mail). It’s better to take action now and sign up for a service on your own to thwart any immediate attempts.
3. Sign up for fraud alerts.
A fraud alert cautions lenders and others to take special care to ensure your identity before issuing new credit. Contact each of the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Transunion and Equifax – and ask that a fraud alert be placed on your file. That will stay on your report for 90 days.
A more extreme measure is a credit freeze, which will stop any kind of credit being extended at all. This means that besides stopping criminals, however, that you won’t be able to issue a credit card, including in-store ones, or get a loan without notifying the three bureaus first.
4. File your taxes early.
It only takes two pieces of information for a hacker to steal your tax refund by filing your taxes early and claiming it for themselves (the data in the breach contained both). So file as early as possible to avoid any problems.
5. Stay vigilant.
Lastly, but probably the most important tip, is to stay vigilant. Your Social Security number is not going to change. One tip to avoid fallout from criminals using the stolen personal information is to never use personally identifiable information as answers to your "secret questions" on your online accounts, said Dwayne Melancon, CTO of Tripwire, a security software company.
"Make up your own questions and answers, or use answers that are fictitious but memorable to you to prevent criminals from guessing their way into your online accounts," said Melancon.
The issue at hand here isn’t so much the trouble of issuing new health insurance cards, its identity theft. Which is a much more complex and serious issue to be mindful of.
The future of pharma: personalised healthcare
Ever since the very first healthcare systems were created, the earliest documented being in ancient Egypt, medical professionals have had a reactionary approach to finding cures for ailments. That is to say that a solution is sought after someone has become sick, using whatever methods were thought to work at the time. Thousands of years later, with advances in genomics and molecular modelling, emphasis is starting to shift towards preventative, personalised healthcare rather than "sick care".
This move is led by data analytics as well as genetic sequencing to inform decision-making, which can ultimately lead to more individualised care. "Identifying the right data will support personalised health outcomes", explains Chris Easton, who is Takeda’s Senior Director and Global Commercial Lead, specialising in personalised health and innovation and applying this to rare blood disorders. "It's about how we can empower patients, interpret data and then apply it."
"The historic pharma model, in a very simplified form, is: a patient has symptoms, gets diagnosed, and gets given drugs for symptoms", Easton says. "Now, with holistic patient care in mind, it's much more about the additional components to care that would make a difference. Yes, drug therapy is one of them, but likewise, it's okay to talk about mental health, as the impact of chronic diseases means often there is a mental health challenge. So what can we do to build a mental health and physical health support package, both of which have data associated with them, that we can use together?"
By way of example, Easton cites the approach taken by elite athletes and astronauts. "Their model is to keep as healthy as possible. If someone on a space mission gets a cold, they're off the mission - it's not affordable to send someone to space that might have a health issue. If you look at footballers and runners, their coaches maintain them at the highest level, and they're using technology and wearables to help monitor their health so that they can make adjustments to stay at peak level for as long as possible."
The aim is to provide a complete, holistic package of care, which Easton acknowledges will pose some challenges to the pharmaceutical sector. "Our model is not necessarily that of a total care package. It's drug therapy or device and technology support therapy. So some things will need to evolve, and that's part of what my role is about."
One way of effecting this change is by collaborating with other organisations, not necessarily limited to healthcare and life sciences. "I'm a big advocate of partnerships and joint ventures. For the pharma sector, these are traditionally through universities and research houses, but I think we need to be willing to look outside the box and look for scalable and transferable technology that is used in everyday life."
"An example is the smartphone you probably have sitting on your desk or the smartwatch you're wearing. These are gathering data all the time. There are probably hundreds of data points that we could use, just from our everyday technology", Easton adds.
While apps like Apple Health, Google Health, and devices like Fitbit collect data, they could be linked to WhatsApp, WeChat or Telegraph to connect to members of a user's care team if a health issue arises. "It's using technology that is already embedded in our lives, that would enable us to share information and photographs. For example, if your knee is swelling and you want to ask a doctor for their opinion, you can send an image, then share the log from your treatment, and it becomes a way of integrating and sharing information."
Shifting towards preventative medicine is one of Takeda's strategic goals for the next few years. An example of how this could work is how people affected by Von Willebrand disease could be supported. This lifelong bleeding disorder prevents blood from clotting and particularly affects girls and women, causing menstrual bleeding to be excessively long and heavy, which has a big impact on their quality of life.
"It's a hereditary disorder, so many women in a family can be affected, but it's hard to diagnose", Easton explains. However, using existing technology that tracks the menstrual cycle via a smartphone perhaps an alert can be issued to let the user know when it's time to start taking replacement therapy for Von Willebrand.
"This means that by the time a period begins, Von Willebrand levels are normalised, and menstrual flow goes down to normal levels. That's actually a massive outcome for someone who has been living with two-week-long periods that bleed through clothing every month. Suddenly for just four or five days, they can use regular tampons and pads. That's a huge improvement to life."
The field of rare blood disorders typically hasn't seen the same amount of attention focused on it - at least in terms of tech innovation - as other chronic illnesses like diabetes. "Rare blood disorders are difficult to show returns on because you've got small patient numbers and often high costs. But if we think about the total patient journey, we could use technology to triage vast numbers of patients and data into more specific diagnosis boxes, so that what is then presented to physicians are smaller groups, of the more likely issues."
Data analysis could, for instance, show that the combination of headaches, nausea and lethargy equates to a specific type of bleeding disorder. "You can start to put these things in categories", Easton says. "And then you're able to do differential diagnosis. But ultimately, what you're trying to do is get a faster, more accurate diagnosis, leading to a specific therapy."
This would be more efficient than administering plasma-based treatments, for example. "A lot of bleeding disorders are caused by a deficiency of something", Easton explains. "There is a lot of combination therapy in blood disorders when you give people plasma-based products because plasma is like the golden chalice of medicine. It has a bit of everything you need. In some cases, when you don't know what the disorder is, this can help patients, but it's not the most precise way of doing it."
"That's one of the ways having very clear diagnostic support linked to advanced direct therapy can help, only treating what you need to. From a payer's perspective, it's very targeted, and there's no wasting money and resources on patients being hospitalised for things that are not necessary."
"If you go back 15-20 years, market access to the pharmaceutical industry was the emerging trend", Easton adds. "We saw all these diagrams of physician decision-making coming down and payer decision-making going up. Now we have another divergence of change, which is the application of technology to support personalised care. This is one of the transformative pieces of pharma right now, and there are a lot of good companies, big and small, being very intelligent about how they're approaching it and investing in those spaces. There's definitely a community building."