Atlanta Phishing Attack Exposes PHI of 7,000 Patients of Georgia Spine and Orthopaedics

Georgia Spine and Orthopaedics of Atlanta (GSOA) is contacting thousands of patients to make them aware that some of their protected health information has been made accessible, and possibly stolen, due to a phishing attack.

An inquest into the data breach showed that an unauthorized person obtained access to an email account due to the employee responding to a phishing email. That response permitted the hacker to obtain the employee’s email account password.

External computer forensics experts were hired to conduct a thorough investigation into the attack to determine the extent of the breach and find out which patients had been impacted. The investigation revealed that a single email account had been compromised on July 11, 2018. A review of GSOA’s technology systems was also carried out to ensure that they were completely safe.

In order to deduce which patients had been impacted, a detailed manual analysis of all emails in the compromised account was completed to determine which messages had been seen by the attacker.

GSOA reports that the way the email account was accessed would have permitted the individual to view and save a desk copy of emails. GSOA said that if a copy of the data was downloaded it was “likely unintentional,” but it is probable that a copy of the emails was retained by the hacker.

The manual review of emails in the account showed they included patients’ names and personal and medical data typically saved in medical records, although only a low number of the compromised emails included patients’ Social Security and driver’s license details.

All patients whose protected health information was obtained/stolen have now been alerted by mail. The breach report on the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) website shows 7,012 patients have been made aware of the PHI breach.