Security Experts:

Details of 4.5 Million Individuals Exposed in UCLA Health Breach

Malicious actors might have accessed the personal and medical information of as many as 4.5 million individuals after breaching the systems of UCLA Health.

According to a notice published on Friday by the healthcare organization, the breach was discovered in October 2014. The FBI and a team of computer forensics experts were called in by UCLA Health to assist with the investigation and response process.

While initially it did not appear that the attackers had gained access to parts of the UCLA Health network containing personal and medical information, on May 5, 2015 investigators determined that sensitive parts of the network had in fact been compromised.

The investigation is still ongoing and UCLA Health says it hasn’t found any evidence that the attackers actually accessed or acquired sensitive data. However, the organization noted that the breached part of the network stored names, addresses, dates of birth, social security numbers, medical record numbers, Medicare or health plan IDs, and some medical information, including test results, medical condition, procedures, and medication.

UCLA Health estimates that as many as 4.5 million individuals could be affected by the attack, which may have started as early as September 2014.

While there is no evidence that the attackers actually stole any sensitive data, the organization says it cannot conclusively rule out the possibility. That is why UCLA Health is contacting potentially affected individuals and offering them one year of identity theft recovery and restoration services, along with additional healthcare identity protection tools. Credit monitoring services are being offered to individuals whose SSN or Medicare ID number was exposed.

UCLA Health says it deals with millions of hack attempts each year. Following this incident, the organization has expended its internal security team, and contracted the services of security firms to enhance monitoring and protection of its network.

“We take this attack on our systems extremely seriously,” stated Dr. James Atkinson, interim associate vice chancellor and president of the UCLA Hospital System. “Our patients come first at UCLA Health and confidentiality is a critical part of our commitment to care. We sincerely regret any impact this incident may have on those we serve. We have taken significant steps to further protect data and strengthen our network against another cyber attack.”

The healthcare sector is increasingly targeted by cybercriminals. An IBM report published in May showed that the cost of data breaches was trending upward and healthcare companies suffer the most, with the average cost per stolen record reaching as much as $363.

“This is another in a long series of recently discovered compromises to medical institutions Carefirst, Anthem, Bluecross and now the UCLA HS. At this point we probably have more breached medical databases than ones that haven’t been compromised,” Gavin Reid, VP of Threat Intelligence at Lancope, commented on the UCLA Health breach. “The problem is that no one wants to spend additional money - and at hospitals you better be spending that money on a new medical equipment or something that saves lives. The hospitals have budgetary needs that impact directly on patient care and lets face it real-life-death situations (better staff, better equipment).”

“The move from paper records in filing cabinets locked away in rooms to online accessible record keeping has been fueled by cost savings and by the increase in medical hardware/software that can take feeds of this data and update automatically,” Reid told SecurityWeek. “Hospitals have mass adopted online record keeping but haven’t seen themselves as a target like a bank. The medical industry as a whole has to up its game in security maturity especially basics like patching, security controls and incident detection and response.”

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.