Department of Health Confirms Nearly 9 Million Patients Exposed by PJ&A

  • By Steven
  • Nov 20, 2023

Department of Health Confirms Exposed

Perry Johnson & Associates (PJ&A) is a medical transcription service assisting providers like Cook County Health and Northwell Health. In mid-October, Chicago’s Cook County Health announced a data breach from PJ&A with a limited impact figure. However, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) has confirmed a more significant number than PJ&A initially determined.

How Did the Attack Occur? 

According to the DHS filing, the breach was a hacking incident over PJ&A’s network server. The cyberattack purportedly consisted of an unauthorized party accessing their network and creating copies of files from PJ&A systems. Initially, the breach by Cook County Health implied the resulting investigations had not yet been complete. The Cook County impact figure was under 1.2 million, but the total number has grown to massive proportions; despite the increase in total impact, there is still little to nothing about how the attackers made the assault possible. 

What Information Was Viewed or Stolen? 

PJ&A has also changed the impacted data from limited patient details to a broader scale. The stolen data differs between patients, compacting health organizations’ challenges in properly notifying individuals. Northwell’s consumer notice suggests a significant chunk of patient personal data got compromised in the breach. 

Among the stolen information, the hackers have allegedly accessed patient names, dates of birth, medical record numbers, hospital account numbers, admissions and diagnoses, dates and times of service, Social Security Numbers, insurance information, medical files like lab tests, medication details, and treatment/healthcare provider names. 

How Did Perry Johnson & Associates Admit to the Breach? 

Northwell’s website breach notice lists a timeline of events, with some omissions about other organizations. According to what is currently known, the attack began around March 27th and presumably lasted until May 2nd. During this time, the assailants gained access to various medical databases for multiple days, sometimes weeks. On or around May 2nd, PJ&A discovered the breach and immediately took action. 

The preliminary investigation initially confirmed 1.2 million impacted by the Cook County breach; however, further reviews have added another 3.9 million patients impacted by the Northwell breach. Both networks sent notices to these impacted patients—but another 4 million people have not yet received their letters. 

What Will Become of the Stolen Information? 

How the hackers might use the data from PJ&A’s breach and the assailant’s identity are unknown. The DHS filing suggests an impact figure of nearly 9 million people—8,952,212 patients—may feel consequences from the breach. Almost half of those who have had their information exposed are unaware of the incident; subsequently, patients are likely to have their information profiteered before they know it’s out there. Organizations may still investigate their specific impacts, prompting them to withhold notices until officials can contact all parties simultaneously.

What Should Affected Parties Do in the Aftermath of the Breach? 

Those who have received notices from Cook County Health or Northwell Health should know their information is at risk. However, another 4 million patients may not know their data is at risk. Additionally, because PJ&A is a third-party service, any health network could see the consequences of the breach. For these reasons, patients across the mid and northeast should consider medical monitoring services to help protect their data.

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