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Hackers swipe patient data from Community Health Systems

Editor's note: Updated to note that Community Health Systems' hospitals in the Fort Smith area were not part of the data hack.

Northwest Health Systems and Willow Creek Women’ facility in Northwest Arkansas are among dozens of health providers within Community Health System’s operations to recently have their computers hacked. Records from Sparks Health System and Summit Medical Center were not part of the data breach.

Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems portfolio of Arkansas hospitals include Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville, Northwest Medical Center-Springdale, Siloam Springs Regional Hospital, Willow Creek Women’s Hospital in Johnson, Sparks Health System in Fort Smith and Summit Medical Center in Van Buren.

The health care provider confirmed that limited personal identification data belonging to some patients who were seen at clinics affiliated with Northwest Health System over the past five years was transferred out of its organization in a criminal cyber-attack by a foreign-based intruder.

“The transferred information did not include any medical information or credit card information, but it did include names, addresses, birth dates, telephone numbers and social security numbers,” according to Patricia Driscoll, spokeswoman for Northwest Health Systems.

“We take very seriously the security and confidentiality of private patient information and we sincerely regret any concern or inconvenience to patients. Though we have no reason to believe that this data would ever be used, all affected patients are being notified by letter and offered free identity theft protection.”

Community Health Systems, which operates 206 hospitals across the U.S., said it believes the intruder was a foreign-based group out of China that was likely looking for intellectual property. Some 4.5 million patients at Community Health Systems facilities are victims of this data breach. The intruder used highly sophisticated methods to bypass security systems. The intruder has been eradicated and applications have been deployed to protect against future attacks, according to the release.

“We are working with federal law enforcement authorities in their investigation and will support prosecution of those responsible for this attack,” Driscoll noted.

The company issued this statement with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission:
“In July 2014, Community Health Systems, Inc. (the “Company”) confirmed that its computer network was the target of an external, criminal cyber attack that the Company believes occurred in April and June, 2014. 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 attacker was able to bypass the Company’s security measures and successfully copy and transfer certain data outside the Company. Since first learning of this attack, the Company has worked closely with federal law enforcement authorities in connection with their investigation and possible prosecution of those determined to be responsible for this attack. The Company also engaged Mandiant, who has conducted a thorough investigation of this incident and is advising the Company regarding remediation efforts.

“Immediately prior to the filing of this Report, the Company completed eradication of the malware from its systems and finalized the implementation of other remediation efforts that are designed to protect against future intrusions of this type. 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.

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“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. The Company has confirmed that this data did not include patient credit card, medical or clinical information; the data is, however, considered protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) because it includes patient names, addresses, birthdates, telephone numbers and social security numbers. The Company is providing appropriate notification to affected patients and regulatory agencies as required by federal and state law.

“The Company will also be offering identity theft protection services to individuals affected by this attack. The Company carries cyber/privacy liability insurance to protect it against certain losses related to matters of this nature. While this matter may result in remediation expenses, regulatory inquiries, litigation and other liabilities, at this time, the Company does not believe this incident will have a material adverse effect on its business or financial results.”

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