A data breach at one of Pennsylvania’s largest health networks has sparked safety concerns and questions regarding why it took several months for patients to be notified.
The Women’s Health Care Group of Pennsylvania, which is based in Oaks, Pennsylvania but has 45 offices serving women in Montgomery, Chester and Delaware Counties, sent a letter to patients this month informing them that hackers had stolen their information. That information included patient names, birth dates, social security numbers, pregnancy histories, blood type information and medical diagnoses.
The following notice, posted on Women’s Health Group’s site on July 18, indicates that this was a ransomware attack:
Notice of Security Breach Incident
Posted: July 18, 2017
On May 16, 2017, we discovered that a server and workstation located at one of our practice locations had been infected by a virus designed to block access to system files. Upon discovering the virus, we immediately removed the infected server and workstation from our network and began an investigation with the assistance of an expert computer forensics team to determine how the virus made it onto our systems and the extent to which the virus may have affected any of our data. Local Federal Bureau of Investigation authorities were contacted and a report was filed.
As part of our investigation, we learned that external hackers gained access to our systems, as far back as January 2017, through a security vulnerability. We also believe the virus was propagated through this vulnerability. Although this security vulnerability allowed access to limited patient information and the virus encrypted certain files, we have been unable to determine if any specific information was actually acquired or viewed in connection with this incident. In addition, the encrypted files were promptly restored from our back-up server and the incident had no effect on our ability to continue to provide patient care nor was any information lost.
The types of files that could have been accessed may have included information about a patient’s name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, lab tests ordered and lab results, telephone number, gender, pregnancy status, medical record number, blood type, race, employer, insurance information, diagnosis, and physician’s name. No driver’s license, credit card or other financial information was stored in any files on the infected server.
Individuals whose information may have been affected by this incident will receive a letter informing them of this incident, with instructions on steps they can take to receive free credit monitoring and identity theft protection services for a year. We recommend these individuals review all financial account information closely and report any fraudulent activity or suspected incident or identity theft. We have set up a call center with a toll-free help line for individuals who have questions about this incident. The phone number is (877) 534-7033. The call center is staffed weekdays Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM (EST) and Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM (EST)
We sincerely regret any concerns or inconvenience this incident may cause our patients. Maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of our patients’ personal information is very important to us and we are conducting a comprehensive internal review of our information security practices and procedures to help prevent such events in the future.
Update: When this incident appeared on HHS’s breach tool, it was reported as impacting 300,000 patients.