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Doctors of Distinction winners warned not to be victims of medical cybercrime

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Doctors of Distinction
Top: Mark Vitale, Andrew Yanik, Paul Schwartz, Mark Melendez, Diego Camacho, Peter Acker, Philip McWhorter. Bottom: Jeannie Kenkare, Marilee Freitas, Camelia Lawrence, Bella Malits, Gilda Bonanno, Patricia Close and Mary MacDonald. Photo by Sebastián Flores

The medical profession needs to be concerned about monitoring its computer systems to prevent them from being hacked and having patient information stolen, according to Peter Verlezza, managing partner of SMB Networks LLC in Hamden.
Verlezza was the keynote speaker at Westfair Communications’ Fairfield County Doctors of Distinction event held May 23 at the Italian Center in Stamford.

Verlezza warned the audience that as medicine becomes deeply involved with computer technology, ranging from increasingly comprehensive databases of patient information and medical histories to medical devices controlled via the internet, the privilege of using technology brings with it the responsibility of protecting yourself. “Don’t become a statistic,” he said.

SMB Networks provides a menu of information technology services for the medical profession, from installation of computer systems to virus and spyware removal. Verlezza has written three books on information technology and co-producer with Jeff Roldan of the documentary “Cyber Crime.”

Verlezza made members of the audience sit up and take notice when he started impersonating a cybercriminal. “Pleased to meet you. My name is Sergei,” he said. “I am 30 years old and live in a place called ‘Berserkistan’ with my two girlfriends I found on an internet dating site. I am the CEO of a successful cybercrime business. Yes, a business. Some would call me a cybercriminal. I prefer to say entrepreneur.”

Verlezza, still using the persona of Sergei, was blunt about what happens in today’s world of computers. “I’ve stolen hundreds of millions of pieces of information that I don’t use myself, but sell to a network of criminals. We trade this information on a place called the dark web, the deep underbelly of the internet. We have Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, user names and passwords, email addresses, health records. We know what you eat daily and your weight.” To prove that he really knows what he’s talking about, Sergei added, “Some of you are lying about both of those.”

Sergei ticked off specifics designed to make audience members start focusing on the security of their computer systems.

“I know who you are, where you live, your children’s names, where you went to school, your alumni associations, your maiden name, your nickname in high school, your birth date, your pet’s name, where you did your residency, who you voted for and what you ate for breakfast. All of that information you gave me. I didn’t even have to ask. You empowered me and my team to extort you.”

Verlezza’s warning was validated in the recent cyberattack on UConn Health in which the data of 326,000 patients may have been stolen. UConn Health began notifying patients of the attack this past February.

Back in 2017, there was an attack in which cybercriminals locked up the computer systems of dozens of hospitals in Great Britain and demanded ransom payments for restoring access to the data. Britain’s National Cyber Security Center worked around the clock to restore service and ransom did not have to be paid.

A health care system in Pennsylvania was hit by the same attack. In 2016, patient records at a health care system in the Washington, D.C., area were held for ransom and patients had to be turned away until a computer virus could be removed.

Following the speech, Wholesome Wave, a national nonprofit based in Bridgeport, was honored. It was founded in 2007 by James Beard Award-winning chef Michel Nischan and former U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture Gus Schumacher. The organization has various programs addressing hunger and nutrition, which it reports have reached more than 1 million otherwise underserved people.

The Caring for All award went to Peter Acker, a pediatrician with Greenwich Hospital and Westchester Medical Center.

Diego Camacho, director of minimally invasive and endoscopic surgery at the Montefiore Health System and associate professor of surgery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, received the No Land Too Far award. He told the audience, “I was inspired not to make a living, but to make a difference.”

The Female Trailblazer award went to Angela F. Campbell, an obstetrician and gynecologist with Norwalk Hospital and Western Connecticut Health Network.

Patricia Close, a gynecologist with the Westmed Medical Group, received the All in the Family award. Referring to her volunteer work in Bolivia, she said, “My volunteer work gives me an appreciation of what I have.”

The Cutting Edge award was presented to Marilee Freitas, division director of colon and rectal surgery at Stamford Hospital.

Jeannie Kenkare, chief medical officer and co-founder of PhysicianOne Urgent Care, received the Urgent Care Center award.

Mary MacDonald, chief mammography technologist at Advanced Radiology Consultants, was the recipient of the Support Staff award.

The Lifetime Achievement award was presented to Philip J. McWhorter of Greenwich Hospital whose specialty is general surgery.

Mark Melendez, section chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Cosmetic & Reconstructive Surgery Associates of Connecticut, received the Caring for All award.

Paul Schwartz, a physician who volunteers with the Bob Macauley Americares Free Clinic, received the Team Player award. He recalled, “My parents came to the U.S. in the early 1900s from Austria and settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They sent my sister and me to college. She became a teacher and I became a physician.

The Cutting Edge award was presented to Mark Vitale, an orthopedic surgeon with Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists.

Andrew Yanik, a student at the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University, was the recipient of the 2019 Promise for the Future award.

The Fairfield County Doctors of Distinction event for 2019 was presented by Westfair Communications, publisher of the Fairfield County Business Journal, the Westchester County Business Journal and WAG magazine. The sponsors were: Greenwich Hospital; SMB Networks; ONS, Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists; Westmed Medical Group; Serafina at the IC; Val’s Putnam Wines & Liquors; and Blossom Flower Shops. The supporters were: PhysicianOne Urgent Care; Gilda Bonanno LLC; Advanced Radiology; BMW of Darien; and Americares Free Clinics. 

Staff writer Glenn Kalinoski contributed to this report.

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