About 4.5M face risk of ID theft after hack of hospital network

Community Health Systems says Chinese hackers accessed names, social security numbers and other data of people it treated or referred

About 4.5 million people in 28 states face the risk of identity theft due to a massive data breach at Community Health Systems (CHS) a Franklin, Tenn., based health network.

CHS, which operates over 200 hospitals, disclosed in a regulatory filing Monday that hackers, apparently based out of China, accessed systems containing the data some time in April and June.

The hackers successfully bypassed the company's security controls and siphoned out names, Social Security Numbers, addresses, birthdates and phone numbers of people who received or were referred for services by CHS affiliated doctors over the past five years.

Security firm Mandiant, which is investigating the breach, believes that a known Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) group, based in China, is responsible for the breach, CHS said in its filing.

The hacker group has been involved theft of intellectual property such as medical device and product development data, CHS said. In this instance, though, the group apparently targeted non-medical patient identification data.

Since the breach was discovered, CHS is working with Mandiant to clean out its systems and implement new remediation measures, the filing noted. CHS is also cooperating with federal agencies in the investigation.

The CHS incident is the second major breach to be disclosed in the past week.

Last Thursday, grocery chain Supervalu disclosed that intruders had gained access to its networks and compromised the data of thousands of people who shopped at the company's stores in more than a dozen states.

The Supervalu breach involved the potential compromise of credit and debit card account numbers, cardholder names, expiration dates and other account related data. Though such intrusions tend to get a lot of attention, consumers are rarely liable for any payment card fraud that might result from the misuse of stolen data.

The theft of social security numbers, birthdates, home addresses and other personal data of the sort involved in the CHS breach presents a far more serious threat because the data can be used to commit identity theft.

In many cases, the victims of such theft will not know for years that their personal data is being misused.

The CHS data breach is yet another reminder of how vulnerable U.S. networks are to targeted attacks. Companies that suffer major data breaches almost always portray themselves as victims of cutting edge malware and attack techniques.

In reality, many companies fall victim to hackers due to fundamental security mistakes, such neglecting to install security patches, making basic network and system configuration errors and a failing to act on system security alerts.

Read more about cybercrime and hacking in Computerworld's Cybercrime and Hacking Topic Center.

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