Home > 2011 > Identity Theft

Data Leak at Stem Cell Bank Makes My Blood Run Cold

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faceMaskIdentity_Xenia_Antunes_CCFlickrThe database compromise club has a new member. Mazel Tov, Cord Blood Registry. You are the latest organization to fail in your responsibility to your clients by neglecting to provide even minimal security for their personal data.  Your membership card is in the mail.

Who is CBR?

Before diving into the data leak, let’s learn a bit more about Cord Blood Registry. CBR is perhaps the world’s largest stem cell bank storing more than 350,000 cord blood collections for individuals and their families.

As my Credit.com colleague Chris Maag wrote: “The Cord Blood Registry saves stem cells from umbilical cords, which is useful in treatment for sickle cell anemia, and in transplant surgeries to minimize the risk of new organs getting rejected by the body. Researchers are studying other potential uses, including regenerating cells to repair damaged tissue.”

[Article: Big Data Breach at Sensitive Lab Prompts Credit Scare]

They claim to be the biggest and “baddest” at what they do.

“Our 80,000 square foot laboratory is the largest cord blood processing facility in the world with some of the most advanced technology in the industry.”

As CBR says on their website:

You can rely on our experience and expertise for your family.

But based on what they lost, how they lost it, when they lost it, the timing and way they explained it, it’s obvious that they have some serious work to do if they want to regain their clients’ trust.


300,000 CBR clients received this belated Valentine’s Day card from David Zitlow, Executive Vice President for External Affairs. It opens with the following:

“I am writing to let you know that an incident occurred that may lead to personal information about you being exposed.”

The personal information referenced is of a demographic and financial nature. Translation: names, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers and credit card expiration dates.

Apparently, a backpack containing three unencrypted storage tapes, a Dell laptop, zip drive and external hard drive was stolen from a CBR employee’s car, shortly before midnight on December 13, 2010 outside of 365 Main Street—a private data center in San Francisco.

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According to a story on Health Data Management, CBR did not immediately post information about the breach on their site and it took them several weeks to get the word out to their client base.

As reported by Paul NcNamara in Buzzblog, Kathy Engle, CBR’s director of corporate communications told him that clinical data was not breached—in other words, a hacker wasn’t able to get through their security protocols. That’s the good news … kind of.  For the 300,000 whose information was compromised, the manner of leak is not nearly as important as the fact that it happened in the first place.  And as far as I’m concerned, the fact that the data was neither encrypted nor locked in a secure environment (a car trunk is not a secure environment) is just plain nuts.  When it comes to data security, that’s the bare minimum.

“Keeping your personal information secure is of the utmost importance to us,” the letter reads.

Sure it is. That’s why the names, addresses, Social Security Numbers, credit card numbers and credit card expiration dates of some 300,000 clients was neatly packed in a backpack in the back of a “locked” car in San Francisco. I guess someone exercised some degree of care—I mean the car might have been left unlocked.

The letter goes on to say:

“CBR also brought in computer security experts to evaluate potential risks. Our experts have advised us there is no indication that any of your personal information has been accessed or misused.”

It should really read, “… no indication that your personal information has been accessed or misused yet.” The information is out there. It’s been in the press. Rest assured, somewhere out there identity thieves are making inquiries.

But the best is yet to come.

Next: The Big Payback »

Image: Xenïa Antunes, via Flickr.com

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  • ann

    I’d like to know why unencrypted personal data like this is leaving the premises.

    “Apparently, a backpack containing three unencrypted storage tapes, a Dell laptop, zip drive and external hard drive was stolen from a CBR employee’s car, shortly before midnight on December 13, 2010 outside of 365 Main Street—a private data center in San Francisco.”

    Yes, I received a letter also…not very happy.

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  • Mark

    As a former employee all I can say is “Yeah that sounds about right.” There fear-selling tactics, under-educated employees (most barely holding associate degree from the local community college), no drug-screening policies, aging facilities, and temperamental one-of-a-kind programs (that only two people in the world can reset if they crash) all leave something to be desired. More than 70% of the time when I needed to call the tech support department based in San Francisco, the on-call techie would answer inside a nightclub, intoxicated, and unable to help. Go with a public bank with actual research PhDs that will understand the genetics of cord blood, and with a facility that isn’t based in the ghetto side of Tucson, or at least with a company that doesn’t allow physical drives to leave the property.

    • Mark

      I mean honestly, pull up 365 Main St, San Francisco, CA 94105 on google maps and check out the crappy city parking lot across the street where the robbery was committed and check out how many bars and the popular brewery up the street. I thought I was putting this place behind me until I got a “friendly letter” saying that someone stole my info, but that they would give me a ONE YEAR paid subscription to a credit monitoring company. Thanks a lot CBR your trust breaks more often than your AXP devices.

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