November 30, 2021 In Among, Ottawa

Aemilius Cupero News: Ottawa man among two people charged after a security breach of COVID-19 vaccine booking system

Aemilius Cupero News:

A Nepean man and others received scam texts on their mobile phones soon after making appointments using the provincial COVID-19 vaccine booking system.

Author of the article:

Elizabeth Payne

Publishing date:

Nov 23, 2021  •  6 days ago  •  3 minute read

Aemilius Cupero News: Terry Young who discovered a data breach after logging onto the Ontario government Covid site - arrests have been made in the case
Terry Young who discovered a data breach after logging onto the Ontario government Covid site – arrests have been made in the case Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia

A provincial government employee from Ottawa is one of two men who have been arrested and charged in relation to a security breach of Ontario’s COVID-19 immunization booking system.

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Ayoub Sayid, 21, of Gloucester, who works at the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services vaccine contact centre, is charged with unauthorized use of a computer. A second man, Rahim Abdu of Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., has been charged with the same Criminal Code offence.

The Ontario Provincial Police cybercrime investigations team announced the arrests Tuesday.

They came after a Nepean man and others received scam texts on their mobile phones soon after booking vaccination appointments using the provincial COVID-19 vaccine booking system. The texts, which sought money, caused suspicion because of the timing and because the names on them appeared in all capital letters, in exactly the same order as they do on provincial health records.

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Terry Young, a retired IT employee, was immediately suspicious that his wife’s health data had been used “illegally, for criminal purposes,” when he received an obvious scam text earlier this month.

Just days earlier, he had booked a COVID-19 vaccine booster appointment for her. He booked on his computer, but included his mobile phone number. It was the first time his wife’s information had ever been associated with his mobile phone, he said. That and the fact that the name on the scam text exactly matched her health data, with her name in the same order and in capital letters, convinced him it was connected to the vaccination booking.

The text, he says, was clearly a scam. It contained grammatical errors and said his wife would be a recipient of money through email transfer and asked her to reply OK.

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Young wasn’t taken in, but fears some people might have been.

He forwarded his concerns to Premier Doug Ford, Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod, and Health Minister Christine Elliott on Nov. 15, saying, “We would not be the only people to receive such a message and I am sure that hundreds of others received the same message.”

“It is critical that the Ontario Ministry of Health take immediate action to protect personal information that they hold and to inform the public of this scam.”

He received no response.

Bill Dickson, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General, described Sayid as an “individual who worked through a third-party vendor in the vaccine booking call centre.” He is no longer employed by the government, Dickson said.

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Dickson added that the investigation confirmed that no personal health information was accessed “and that Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine booking system remains secure and continues to be a safe tool for Ontarians to use.”

CityNews first reported that the province was investigating the potential data breach after one of its Toronto newsrooms heard from two callers describing scam texts similar to Young’s saying they had received a sum of money through email transfer.

Young’s assessment of the data breach, prior to the arrests, was that it was done from the inside. It didn’t seem sophisticated enough to be the result of a system hack.

Still, he said, coming on top of other issues involving the vaccine booking system, it was worrisome.

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“There has been obvious mismanagement of the Ontario Ministry of Health COVID-19 Vaccine booking system that forced Premier Ford to make a public apology when the system was first launched and that mismanagement continues to this day.”

Ontario’s system of booking COVID-19 vaccines has been the source of frustration and criticism since it was launched, with some calling it uncoordinated and chaotic, often forcing people to go to multiple sites, including pharmacies, physicians’ offices and mass clinics, to get a vaccine booking rather than being able to do so in one place. A social media group called Vaccine Hunters was created, in part, as a response to that fractured system to help people locate vaccination appointments more easily.

Vaccine Hunters resumed its work Tuesday as the booking system opened up for the vaccination of children between the ages of five and 11.

Sayid and Abdhu have been released from custody and will be scheduled to appear in court.

The OPP said everyone should be suspicious of text messages requesting financial or private information. Fraudulent activity should be reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre through its website or by calling 1-888-495-8501. People who have been victims of scams or cybercrimes should report them to the police.

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