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Health & Medicine

LA County Attack Highlights Importance of Proactively Protecting PHI

— June 27, 2024

As large-scale data breaches continue to surface, pressures mount to identify more proactive measures to stop future attacks.

In recent years, cybersecurity attacks have become increasingly prevalent, targeting individuals, businesses, and government agencies alike. These attacks, which range from phishing scams to ransomware attacks, have resulted in the exposure of sensitive information, financial loss, and disruption of critical services, highlighting the importance of officials taking more proactively measures to safeguard against hacking attempts.

In one of the more recent cybersecurity incidents that authorities believe could have happened in February of this year, the personal information of over 200,000 individuals in Los Angeles County was potentially exposed due to a phishing attack on the Department of Public Health. The attack was publicly announced last week.

According to reports, the attack involved the use of a phishing email to trick 53 public health employees into revealing their login credentials. This allowed the hacker to access a range of protected health information (PHI), including full patient names, dates of birth, diagnoses, prescription information, medical record numbers, health insurance details, Social Security numbers, and other financial information.

The Department of Public Health has taken immediate steps to address the breach and secure its systems, including disabling the affected email accounts, resetting devices, blocking malicious websites, and quarantining suspicious emails. Additionally, the agency is offering free identity monitoring services through Kroll to individuals affected by the breach to ensure their information is not misused.

Photo by Kevin Ku from Pexels

For those whose medical records may have been accessed, authorities have stated it’s advisable to review them with a healthcare provider to ensure accuracy and to monitor Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statements from insurance companies for any unauthorized services. Furthermore, individuals can request and review their credit reports for inaccuracies and consider placing a freeze on their credit files to prevent unauthorized use of their Social Security numbers. Each of these measures is crucial in monitoring for any red flags and putting a stop to fraudulent activity as soon as possible. A credit freeze restricts access to a person’s report, making it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts or lines of credit in their name.

This incident serves as a stark reminder of the importance of cybersecurity awareness and diligence in protecting personal information. It also draws attention to the sobering fact of just how easily large systems can be tampered with and the ongoing issues related to online threats.

The breach underscores the need for organizations to implement robust security measures, such as employee training programs to recognize phishing attempts, regular security audits, and data encryption, to mitigate the risk of data breaches. Regular audits can point out vulnerabilities in an organization’s systems and processes, proactively pinpointing areas that may be vulnerable before they’re exploited. Encrypting data both in transit and at rest allows organizations to ensure that even if a breach occurs, the stolen data remains unreadable and unusable to hackers.

In addition to the importance of taking these measures, organizations should also implement strong access controls, regularly update their software and systems, and have an incident response plan in place to quickly and effectively respond to a data breach. By taking a comprehensive and proactive approach to cybersecurity, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches and protect the sensitive information of their clients, employees, and stakeholders.


Phishing attack hits L.A. County public health agency, jeopardizing 200,000-plus residents’ personal info


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