Few healthcare executives want to talk about how their organizations fell victim to cyber crime.
But Jack Lynch, CEO of the four-hospital Main Line Health, based in Bryn Mawr, Pa., thinks others can learn if he talks about how his organization fell victim last month to a “spear phishing” exploit.
The system wasn't hacked, Lynch said, but was tricked into releasing data.
On Feb. 16, an employee received an e-mail, purportedly from the hospital's chief financial officer, asking for specific payroll information on Main Line Health workers, Lynch said.
“The employee put together the information for what the employee thought was a legitimate request and forwarded the information back” to the e-mail sender, thinking it was the CFO, Lynch said.
Two days later, a different Main Line employee received a separate e-mail, purportedly from Lynch, asking for employees' W-2 information.
This time, the would-be exploiters made a tell-tale mistake. The e-mail message was signed, John Lynch.
“She knew it wasn't from me,” Lynch said. “I go by Jack.” The second employee deleted the message without reporting it to anyone.
“At this point, nobody in management knew” that hospital employees had been targeted twice in two days, he said. They didn't know what was happening until March 1.
That's when the IRS issued a national bulletin on a spear phishing campaign targeting payroll and human resources personnel.
The employee who fell victim Feb. 16 read it, realized what had happened and called the health system's IT security, legal and compliance departments, Lynch said.
Main Line immediately notified the FBI and the IRS, which launched investigations.
On March 2, the other employee came forward, reporting there had been another spear phishing attempt. Main Line Health notified its employees, then the news media the same day.
Employees have since been given credit counseling and monitoring services. It's likely, Lynch said, based on the IRS bulletin, that the attackers were wanting the information to file fraudulent income tax returns.
No patient records were involved at Main Line, but spear phishing has been linked to some of the largest and most notorious medical record data breaches in healthcare history. They include the granddaddy of them all, last year's hack at insurance giant Anthem that exposed 78.8 million individuals' records.
“I get a phising e-mail at least once a day,” Lynch said. Some are “very authentic” looking, so organizations that are service oriented and push employees to be responsive, can fall into these schemes.
Already this month, Main Line has taken a hard look at its security practices and technologies, improving both through process changes, employee education and tech improvements.
Lynch said fraud experts and the IRS have met with staff. He said the system also turned off old technology that might have made them vulnerable.
New technology makes it “very clear when an e-mail looks like it's coming from outside the firewall,” Lynch said, but, “if your employees don't know to be on the lookout for the difference between an external correspondence and an internal correspondence, that's a problem. You have to educate your people about that.”
Employees are also trained to report all suspected phishing attempts to the IT security department.
“What I'm saying, we need to take it to another level,” Lynch said. “I don't know what industry to look at and say, they've got it figured out. One of my contacts said this is a never-ending process. I think the world has proven that. You've always got to outsmart the technology of bad people.”