Huge US health insurer announces data breaches, stretching back to December 2013

September 14, 2015 |

Data breaches involving health information are particularly concerning.  In the Privacy Act health related information is defined as sensitive information.  Under the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act 2012 (PCEHR Act) there is mandatory reporting of data breaches and the Privacy Commissioner has recently issued guidelines regarding data breaches.  PC World in Cyberattack exposes 10 million records at US health insurer Excellus reports on a very significant and egregous data breach involving 10 million records.  It provides:

Hackers have penetrated the IT systems of U.S. health insurer Excellus BlueCross BlueShield and gained access to personal, financial and medical information of more than 10 million people, the company disclosed Thursday.

The initial attack occurred in December 2013, but the company did not learn about it until Aug. 5. Since then it has been working with the FBI and cybersecurity firm Mandiant to investigate the breach.

The hackers may have had access to customer records which include names, addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, member identification numbers, financial accounts and medical claims information.

Records may contain all or just some of that information, depending on the customer’s relationship with the company. The breach doesn’t affect just Excellus members, but also members of other Blue Cross Blue Shield plans who sought medical treatment in the upstate New York area serviced by the company.

The information was encrypted, but the attackers gained administrative privileges to the IT systems, allowing them to potentially access it, the company said on a website that was set up to provide information about the incident.

No evidence has been found yet that the data was copied or misused by the attackers.

Excellus will send breach notification letters via mail to all affected persons throughout the month and is offering free credit monitoring and identity protection services for two years through a partner.

The company will not contact affected individuals via email or telephone, so any emails or phone calls claiming to be from the company in regard to this attack should be ignored as they are probably scams.

After a major data breach, it is common for cybercriminals to send emails that seek personal and financial information or which carry malicious attachments.

The incident comes after three other Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurers — Anthem, Premera and CareFirst — announced large data breaches this year as a result of cyberattacks.

Security researchers from Symantec attributed the Anthem breach to a sophisticated cyberespionage group of Chinese origin dubbed Black Vine that has access to exploits for previously unknown vulnerabilities. Bloomberg reported that the same group was responsible for the breach at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that affected 21.5 million current and former U.S. government employees.

Excellus said that it doesn’t have sufficient information about the Anthem, Premera and CareFirst investigations in order to comment about possible connections between those attacks and the one against its own systems.

The story has also been reported by Reuters in New York health insurer hacked, over 10 million members possibly affected , This big U.S. health insurer just got hacked,  Cyberattack on New York Blues plan Excellus affects 10 million and Cyberattack exposes 10 million records at US health insurer Excellus.

The statement from Excellus Bluecross Blueshield provides:


On August 5, 2015, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield learned that cyberattackers had executed a sophisticated attack to gain unauthorized access to our Information Technology (IT) systems.  Our investigation further revealed that the initial attack occurred on December 23, 2013. As part of our own investigation, we notified the FBI and are coordinating with the Bureau’s investigation into this attack.

We worked closely with Mandiant, one of the world’s leading cybersecurity firms, to conduct our investigation and to remediate the issues created by the attack on our IT systems.  We are taking additional actions to strengthen and enhance the security of our IT systems moving forward.

Our investigation determined that the attackers may have gained unauthorized access to individuals’ information, which could include name, date of birth, Social Security number, mailing address, telephone number, member identification number, financial account information and claims information. This incident also affected members of other Blue Cross Blue Shield plans who sought treatment in the 31 county upstate New York service area of Excellus BCBS. Individuals who do business with us and provided us with their financial account information or Social Security number are also affected.

The investigation has not determined that any such data was removed from our systems.  We also have no evidence to date that such data has been used inappropriately.

We recognize this issue can be frustrating and we are taking steps to protect you. We are beginning to mail letters to affected individuals today, September 9. We are providing two years of free identity theft protection services through Kroll, a global leader in risk mitigation and response solutions, including credit monitoring powered by TransUnion, to affected individuals. We also have established a dedicated call center for affected individuals to contact with any questions. Individuals who believe they are affected by this incident but who have not received a letter by November 9, are encouraged to call 1-877-589-3331, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time (closed on U.S. observed holidays). 

We sincerely regret the frustration and concern this incident may cause.  We want you to know that protecting your information is incredibly important to us, as is helping you through this situation with the information and support you need.



One Response to “Huge US health insurer announces data breaches, stretching back to December 2013”

  1. Huge US health insurer announces data breaches, stretching back to December 2013 | Australian Law Blogs

    […] Huge US health insurer announces data breaches, stretching back to December 2013 […]

Leave a Reply