In recent weeks, several large healthcare data breaches have been reported that have seen cybercriminals gain access to employees’ email accounts and sensitive data, although the recently disclosed UnityPoint Health phishing attack stands out due to the huge number of individuals that have been impacted and the extent of sensitive data exposed.
UnityPoint Health is one of the largest healthcare systems serving Iowa residents. The Des Moines-based healthcare provider recently discovered that its employees have been targeted in a phishing campaign that has seen several email accounts compromised. Those email accounts contained the sensitive information of approximately 1.4 million patients.
That not only makes this the largest phishing incident to have been suffered by a U.S. healthcare provider in 2018, it is also the largest healthcare data breach of 2018 and one of the most serious phishing attacks and data breaches ever reported.
The UnityPoint Health phishing attack has seen highly sensitive data compromised, including names, addresses, health insurance information, medical record numbers, diagnoses, treatment information, lab test results, medications, providers, dates of service, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and, for a limited number of patients, their payment card information.
The phishing emails were sent to employees between March 14 and April 3, 2018, although the breach was not detected until May 31. As is common in phishing attacks on businesses, access to email accounts was gained through the impersonation of a senior executive.
A series of spoofed emails were sent to employees that appeared to have come from a trusted executive’s email account. Employees who opened the email were instructed to click a link that required them to enter their email login information. That information was captured by the attackers who were then able to gain access to the employees’ email accounts.
The UnityPoint Health phishing attack potentially gave the hackers access to all the information stored in the compromised email accounts – Information that could be used for identity theft and fraud. It is unclear whether mailboxes were downloaded, although UnityPoint Health said its forensic investigation suggests that the primary goal was to divert payroll payments and to use account access to fool accounts department staff into making fraudulent wire transfers. It is unclear if any of those attempts succeeded.
This is also not the only UnityPoint Health phishing attack to be reported this year. In March, UnityPoint Health announced that 16,400 patients had been affected by a separate phishing attack that saw multiple email accounts compromised.
The latest incident has prompted the healthcare provider to implement new technology to detect phishing and BEC attacks, multi-factor authentication has been implemented, and additional security awareness training has been provided to employees. Credit monitoring and identify theft monitoring services have been offered to patients whose driver’s license or Social Security number has been exposed, and all patients have been notified by mail.
As the Ponemon Institute’s 2018 Cost of a Data Breach Study showed, the cost of these million-record+ data breaches is considerable. The average cost of such a breach was estimated to be around $40 million.