Huge Heartbleed data theft logged

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The FBI has warned health care providers and health IT device makers that they have been targeted in what appears to be one of the largest disclosed cyberattacks based on the Heartbleed Open SSL vulnerability that was uncovered last spring.

The FBI issued an unclassified but restricted warning to health care providers in mid-August in response to an intrusion into Community Health Systems Professional Services Corp.'s (CHSPSC) network. In an Aug. 19 statement, the company said that it had determined in July that its computer network was targeted by an external criminal cyberattack between April and June. The Tennessee-based company provides management, consulting, and IT services to clinics and hospital-based physicians.

Reports in mid-August indicated the attack was based on the OpenSSL Heartbleed vulnerability on a network device that hadn't been patched. The FBI's warning, issued in late August and posted on the Public Intelligence open-source website Sept. 2, seems to confirm those reports but does not explicitly say the Heartbleed vulnerability was exploited.

According to the FBI, the attack on CHSPSC began with a spear phishing email message that contains a malicious link that may connect unwary users to a new virtual private network site, service or client or a webmail site. The network is subsequently compromised via ports 80, 443 and possibly others. Those ports are vulnerable to OpenSSL Heartbleed exploits.

A company filing at the Securities and Exchange Commission said records for 4.5 million individuals were stolen, including nonmedical data related to the company's physician practice operations. The company said the attackers stole patients' names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers and, in some cases, telephone numbers, along with the names of employers or guarantors. However, the company said that to the best of its knowledge, no credit card, medical or clinical information was taken.

The company said a Chinese group that "used highly sophisticated malware technology to attack CHSPSC's systems" was behind the attack. The intruders bypassed security measures and copied and transferred data from its systems, according to a statement from Andi Bosshart, CHSPSC's corporate compliance and privacy officer.

Beyond seeking to gather personal data, the FBI warned that the group has also been targeting companies in the health care industry to steal valuable intellectual property, such as information related to the development of medical devices and equipment.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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