Data Breach News

Accidental Download Caused Major Ascension Cyberattack

Ascension reports that attackers managed to steal files from a small number of servers within its network.

by Samiksha Jain June 13th, 2024

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Ascension, a leading healthcare provider, has made significant progress in its investigation and recovery efforts following a recent cyberattack. With the help of third-party cybersecurity experts, Ascension has identified the extent of the Ascension cyberattack and the steps needed to protect affected individuals.

Ascension reports that attackers managed to steal files from a few servers within its network. Specifically, seven out of approximately 25,000 servers, primarily used by associates for daily tasks, were compromised. These servers might contain Protected Health Information (PHI) and Personally Identifiable Information (PII) for certain individuals.

“We now have evidence that attackers were able to take files from a small number of file servers used by our associates primarily for daily and routine tasks. Though we are still investigating, we believe some of those files may contain PHI and PII for certain individuals, although the specific data may differ from individual to individual,” said an Ascension spokesperson.

What Caused Ascension Cyberattack?

The cyberattack on Ascension was traced back to an innocent mistake by an employee who accidentally downloaded a malicious file, mistaking it for a legitimate one.

“We have also identified how the attacker gained access to our systems. An individual working in one of our facilities accidentally downloaded a malicious file that they thought was legitimate. We have no reason to believe this was anything but an honest mistake,” informed the spokesperson.

This incident highlights the importance of continuous cybersecurity training and vigilance among all employees to prevent such occurrences in the future.

Ascension has assured its patients and associates that there is no evidence suggesting any data was taken from the Electronic Health Records (EHR) system or other clinical systems where comprehensive patient records are securely stored. This means the most sensitive health information remains uncompromised, providing some relief amidst the ongoing investigation.

Ongoing Review and Protective Measures

Ascension is currently conducting a detailed review and analysis of the potentially impacted files to determine precisely what data was affected and identify the individuals involved. This meticulous process is expected to take considerable time due to the volume and complexity of the data.

In the meantime, Ascension is taking proactive steps to protect its patients and associates. The healthcare provider is offering free credit monitoring and identity theft protection services to all patients and associates, regardless of whether their data is eventually found to be compromised. This service is intended to provide immediate peace of mind and mitigate potential risks from the Ascension data breach.

Individuals who wish to enroll in these protective services are encouraged to contact Ascension’s dedicated call center at 1-888-498-8066.

Commitment to Transparency and Legal Compliance

Ascension remains committed to transparency throughout this investigation. While specific details regarding whether an individual’s data was affected cannot be provided, Ascension pledges to follow all applicable laws and regulations related to data breach notifications.

“We encourage all Ascension patients and staff who are concerned to take advantage of these services. We want to be clear that this offer does not mean we have determined that any specific individual patient’s data has been compromised. Rather, it illustrates our desire to do everything possible to reassure our patients and associates, regardless of any impact to specific individuals’ data,” the spokesperson explained.

“Once our data analysis is complete, we are committed to following all applicable laws and regulations to notify affected individuals and the appropriate regulatory bodies. To our patients, associates, and the communities we serve, we regret any disruption or concern you may have experienced as a result of this incident,” the spokesperson added.

Background and Impact of Cyberattack on Ascension

On May 10, The Cyber Express reported that Ascension faced disruptions in clinical operations due to a cyberattack that prompted the organization to take some of its systems offline. Operating in 19 states and the District of Columbia, Ascension oversees 140 hospitals and 40 senior care facilities. It also boasts a significant workforce of 8,500 providers, 35,000 affiliated providers, and 134,000 associates. In 2023, Ascension’s total revenue amounted to $28.3 billion.

Given its substantial revenue and widespread operations, the impact of this cyberattack was significant. The organization detected unusual activity on select technology network systems, prompting an immediate response, investigation initiation, and activation of remediation efforts.

Due to the cyberattack, Ascension advised its business partners to temporarily sever connections to its systems as a precautionary measure and stated it would notify partners when it is safe to reconnect. The cyberattack on Ascension disrupted clinical operations, prompting an investigation into the extent and duration of the disruption.

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