SIKESTON, Mo. (KFVS) - Cyber thieves have targeted a clinic in the Heartland by hacking into it’s computer network and holding decades of medical records for ransom.
According to Saint Francis Healthcare System, the computer network at Ferguson Medical Group (FMG) in Sikeston, Mo. experienced a cyber attack on Sept. 20, 2019.
Kathleen Ellison takes her three sons to FMG and said the incident is eye opening.
“Somebody could have gotten my kids records, so it was very scary and kind of heart wrenching,” Ellison said.
The attack happened prior to Saint Francis Medical Center acquiring the health care group at the start of 2019.
Saint Francis President Maryann Reese said they discovered the breach on September 21 and contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigations soon after.
With the FBI’s help, Saint Francis ultimately choose not to pay the cyber thieves.
“This is an isolated incident with Ferguson Medical Group before they come on with Saint Francis," Reese said. “The attack was an accessibility attack. They want ransom money. What they do is they take over the records, they take them over and they want you to pay to get them back. They’re not interested in information.”
Reese said their cyber security department was able to secure Ferguson’s computer network and restore almost all of the clinics lost files using backups.
“Even though no protected health information was in any way compromised, this will make us stronger because we have a heightened awareness around it," Reese said. "Patients deserve to know that their health information is private and secure.”
Experts were unable to restore FMG records between Sept. 20, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2018, as well as any documentation that had been scanned into the FMG system, regardless of date.
Ellison is happy the scope of the breach was limited in size.
“It’s nice that its a smaller gap because its not like an entire history," Ellison said. "I went here with Dr. Blanton when I was a little kid, so if mine was taken they would’ve had to get a binder.”
Saint Francis believe the hackers go in by guessing an employee password and say they're stepping up their security measures.
“I would encourage everyone to remember passwords should be complicated and passwords should be changed often,” Reese said. “There are cyber security attacks every single day and not just in healthcare, everywhere. This is just a reality that we’re going to have to live with and we all just have to get smarter than the criminals.”
Saint Francis said it does not believe any patient information was compromised in the cyber attack, but the health care provider is notifying all impacted individuals who can be identified and located.
Those affected will be receiving letters from Saint Francis.
Saint Francis is advising those affected of precautionary steps they can take to protect themselves, including offering complimentary credit monitoring service.
If individuals affected by the cyber attack have any questions about the incident they can contact a call center at 1-866-611-1186 between 9 a.m. through 9 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.
Saint Francis said there is no indication that patient information in the attack has been or will be used inappropriately.
Saint Francis serves patients across Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas.