One of the leading U.S. healthcare organizations (HCO) has revealed that a phishing attack in September 2017 may have led to the compromise of highly sensitive data belonging to nearly half a million patients.

Augusta University Health, based out of Georgia, claimed to be notified by investigators on July 31 that an attack last September on a member of the hospitals' staff may have given hackers access to data belonging to 417,000 patients. The HCO suffered a second phishing attack on July 11; the incident is still being investigated, however, Augusta said it was “smaller in scope”.

A recent notice published by the HCO claims that hackers solicited usernames and passwords, allowing them access to a number of internal email accounts. However, the notice does not discuss when the intrusion was made, or why the public notice comes 10 months after the cyber-attacks.

In the attack, the hackers were able to access a variety of sensitive data, including addresses, birth dates, medical record numbers, medical/treatment/surgical information, diagnoses, lab results, medications, insurance information, and for a small number of affected patients, their Social Security and driver’s license numbers.

In response to the incident, Augusta has implemented multifactor authentication, banned the use of protected health data in emails, and has created a VP of Compliance & Risk Management position within the company.

HCO’s store some of the most sensitive data, including medical, insurance, and financial information. This patient health information (PHI) is often sold on the dark web to the highest bidder and used to conduct identity fraud attempts and theft.  

That’s why it’s important that healthcare organizations don’t stop at HIPAA compliance, but take additional steps to truly harden and secure their IT environment. This can be done by leveraging continuous visibility and monitoring of critical assets, including EHR systems, the repository of PHI.

To protect this sensitive information, NNT recommends hardened systems first in order to reduce the attack surface. Once the proper configurations are implemented and systems are vulnerability free, leverage File Integrity Monitoring and Intelligent Change Control to spot unauthorized changes in your EHR environment in real-time. We can help you filter out all the overwhelming change noise down to genuinely suspicious changes that need to be reviewed, while providing you with details on what changed, when the change was made, and who made the change.  


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