Chicago/ Health & Lifestyle
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Published on June 13, 2024
Ascension Health Network Hit by Ransomware, Patient Data Stolen Across Chicago Area HospitalsSource: Unsplash/Markus Spiske

The Ascension health care network has confirmed that it was struck by ransomware last month, resulting in hackers stealing patient information, while the organization's full electronic health records system was untouched; this details an ongoing concern about cyber threats targeting hospitals. In a statement posted Wednesday, Ascension, a nonprofit Catholic health system, disclosed that data was taken from only seven out of its 25,000 servers across the country with some of the affected files containing health data and personally identifiable information, as reported by Chicago Sun-Times.

An inadvertent download of a malicious file by an employee opened the door for the attackers to infiltrate Ascension's network, and although it is clear that some patient information has been compromised Ascension has not yet specified how many individuals were affected or which patient data was stolen, highlighting the complexity and potential broad-reaching impacts of healthcare cyber breaches. Meanwhile, patients across the network are being offered free credit monitoring and identity theft protection services, which they can access through a dedicated call center, and although the full electronic health records were not breached, Ascension is working to determine the exact scope of the stolen information, as stated in The Record.

The organization, which operates 150 healthcare facilities in Illinois alone, including well-known hospitals such as Ascension Resurrection in Chicago and St. Alexius in Hoffman Estates, faced operational challenges due to the cyberattack. It had to resort to manual paperwork for a period of time last month before restoring its electronic record systems to its Illinois hospitals earlier this week. This widespread issue is not confined to Ascension, as the University of Chicago Medical Center and Lurie Children’s Hospital in the Chicago area also reported data breaches this year, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

To combat increasing cyber threats against hospitals, which have surged by 130% in the last year, the White House has launched a new cybersecurity strategy in partnership with industry giants like Microsoft and Google, focusing on bolstering protections, especially for rural hospitals and the healthcare industry as a whole. Meanwhile,  Google Cloud's Taylor Lehmann was quoted in The Record reflecting on the grave repercussions of such attacks on healthcare provisions.