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Ransomware Gang Dumps Data Stolen from Two U.S. Healthcare Providers

The Conti ransomware gang has dumped a large batch of healthcare data online that was allegedly stolen from Leon Medical Centers in Florida and Nocona General Hospital in Texas.

Leon Medical Centers suffered a Conti ransomware attack in early November 2020, which was initially reported to the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights on January 8, 2021 as affecting 500 individuals. Leon Medical Centers explained in its substitute breach notice that the incident involved the use of malware and the investigation confirmed the attackers accessed the personal and protected health information of certain patients.

It is unclear when the ransomware attack on Nocona General Hospital occurred, as notification letters do not appear to have been sent to affected individuals, no breach notice has been posted on its website, and the incident is not listed on the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights breach portal.

According to NBC, which spoke with an attorney representing the hospital, none of its systems appeared to have been breached, files were apparently not encrypted, and no ransom note had been identified by the hospital. The Conti leak site had around 20 files uploaded on February 3, 2021 which contained patient information and Databreaches.net reports that the site included more than 1,760 leaked files on February 10, most of which appeared to be old data. Databreaches.net was contacted by the hospital’s attorney who confirmed that the current systems used by the hospital had not been compromised, instead an old server was compromised that held files relating to patient or patient data transfers. The incident is still under investigation.

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The theft of patient data prior to file encryption, often called double extortion, is now commonplace. According to the New Zealand cybersecurity firm Emsisoft, at the start of 2020 only one ransomware group was exfiltrating data prior to file encryption, but by the end of the year at least 17 ransomware groups were exfiltrating data prior to deploying ransomware.

This tactic increases the probability of the ransom being paid. Healthcare organizations may be able to recover files from backups, but they would need to pay the ransom to prevent the stolen data from being dumped on leak sites or sold to other threat actors.

There are signs, however, that this tactic is now proving to be less effective. A recent report by Coveware suggests trust has been eroded and more victims are choosing not to pay the ransom when they can recover their data from backups as there is no guarantee that stolen data will be deleted if the ransom is paid.

Coveware attributed the dramatic reduction in ransom payments in Q4, 2020 to victims choosing not to pay due to a lack of trust that in the attackers. “Coveware continues to witness signs that stolen data is not deleted or purged after payment. Moreover, we are seeing groups take measures to fabricate data exfiltration in cases where it did not occur,” explained Coveware, in its Q4 Ransomware Report.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.