Community Health Systems Hacked, 4.5 Million Patients Affected
One of the largest hospital groups in the U.S. has fallen victim to a cyberattack that gave hackers access to the personal information of 4.5 million patients. The attack reportedly originated in China and led to data leakage in April and June, according to a regulatory filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission by Community Health Systems
Tennessee-based Community Health Systems is a publicly-traded hospital company that operates acute care hospitals. The company owns, leases or operates 206 affiliated hospitals in 29 states with an aggregate of approximately 31,100 licensed beds.
“The company and its forensic expert, Mandiant (a FireEye company), believe the attacker was an ‘advanced persistent threat’ group originating from China who used highly sophisticated malware and technology to attack the company’s systems,” the filing said. “The attacker was able to bypass the company’s security measures and successfully copy and transfer certain data outside the company.”
What Did Hackers Really Get?
Community Health has worked closely with federal law enforcement authorities since it discovered the attack and reports it has “completely eradicated” the malware from its systems and implemented additional layers of security protections to prevent this type of attack in the future.
“The company has been informed by federal authorities and Mandiant that this intruder has typically sought valuable intellectual property, such as medical device and equipment development data,” the filing said. “However, in this instance the data transferred was non-medical patient identification data related to the company’s physician practice operations and affected approximately 4.5 million individuals who, in the last five years, were referred for or received services from physicians affiliated with the company.”
According to Community Health, the data did not include patient credit card, medical or clinical information. However, the leaked data is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. That signals that patient names, addresses, birthdates, telephone numbers and Social Security numbers got into the hands of criminals.
Community Health is notifying affected patients and regulatory agencies and plans, like other organizations that were breached in recent months, to offer identity theft protection services to individuals affected by this attack.
Worst Possible Kind of Breach
We caught up with Lamar Bailey, director of security at security research firm Tripwire, to get his take on the Community Health Systems data breach. He told us from a consumer’s standpoint this is the worst possible kind of breach.
“When financial data such as credit card numbers are stolen, retailers and card issuers ultimately bear the costs,” Baily said. “When personal information is stolen, especially healthcare data because it typically includes name, address, phone number, birth dates, and Social Security number, it impacts consumers directly.”
According to Bailey, the data could be used on the black market to create new identities for criminals and terrorists. He said stolen data can also be used to open new, fraudulent credit accounts.
“Recovering from this kind of identity theft is difficult and can be extremely time consuming,” Bailey said. “Anyone effected by this breach should freeze their credit [immediately] to stop new credit accounts from being opened without their consent.”