Phishing Attack on Business Associate Exposes Forrest General Hospital Patients’ PHI

A business associate of Forrest Health’s Forrest General Hospital, HORNE LLP is alerting a number of hospital patients that some of their PHI (PHI) has potentially been stolen by a third party after they accessed the email account of one of its staff members.

HORNE, a management consulting company, supplies certain Medicare reimbursement services to Forrest General Hospital and as such, need access to patients’ private health information.

HORNE discovered an email account violation on November 1, 2017 when it noticed the email account of a staff member was being used to broadcast phishing emails. The discovery lead to the shut down of the email account and a review into a potential breach was begun. That investigation showed an unauthorized person had gained access to the staff member’s email account the day before as a result of the worker replying to a phishing email.

The phishing attack was reviewed by a third-party investigator to ascertain the nature and range of the breach and whether the PHI of any patients had been obtained. The investigation confirmed the attack was restricted to a single email account. An analysis of the emails in the account showed some Forrest General Hospital patients’ PHI could potentially have been obtained.

The breach notice reviewed by stated that “certain emails within the employee’s email account were subject to unauthorized access.” On November 27, HORNE found that some of those emails included attachments that included PHI comprising names, birth dates, Medicaid ID numbers, patient account numbers, service dates, and Social Security details.

While emails could possibly have been unlocked and the attachments obtained by the attacker, no proof was uncovered to imply that was the case. However, it was also not possible to eliminate data theft completely.

Due to this, in line with HIPAA Rules, affected individuals are being alerted of the breach, though somewhat later than they should have been. HORNE says in its breach notice that the correspondence is being sent starting February 1, 2018, when the email account breach was noticed on November 1 and PHI was confirmed to have been accessible on November 27.

The breach notices are being transmitted by HORNE for Forrest General Hospital. All patients affected have been offered free credit monitoring and identity theft restoration facilities through Experian for 1  year as a precaution against misuse of their information.

HORNE is adapting additional security measures to improve the security of its systems and better safeguard the privacy of any individuals whose PHI has been given to the firm.

The incident has yet to be published on the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) breach online portal. It is currently no obvious exactly how many clients of Forrest Health Hospital have been affected by the phishing campaign.