In a filing yesterday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Community Health Systems, Inc. a major hospital group company with 206 hospitals in 29 states disclosed that it had suffered a major data breach in which the names, addresses, birth dates, Telephone numbers and Social Security numbers of 4.5 million of its patients who had done business with Community Health Systems during the past five years. The hacking originated in China and followed a familiar pattern whereby information gathering malware was surreptitiously installed on the computers of Community Health Systems. This information places the affected individuals in serious danger of identity theft. The health care industry has increasingly in the last six months become a frequent target for large scale hacking and data breaches as the security in general for many of the companies that make up this industry is extremely lax. In fact, in April, the FBI warned the health care industry specifically that its cybersecurity was not sufficient to protect the personal information it stores.
If you were a patient at any of the hospitals of Community Health Systems during the past five years, you should be particularly concerned, but even if you have not, your turn will come as more and more companies and industries continue to suffer major data breaches. So what can you do? The first thing is to limit, as much as possible, the information that you provide to the companies with which you do business. Don’t store your credit card number with an online merchant merely for convenience because it puts you in danger of identity theft if the company is hacked. You also should monitor all of your financial accounts closely for fraudulent activities. You also may wish to consider putting a credit freeze on your credit report to block an identity thief from accessing your credit report and your credit even if he or she has your personal information. For more specific tips on what you can do to protect yourself, I urge you to get a copy of my new book, “Identity Theft Alert” which can be purchased from Amazon by clicking on the link on the right hand side of this page.