Lawmaker Wants Details on Cyberattack Impact on Health Care

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By James Swann

A senior Republican lawmaker wants more details on how a cyberattack affected Nuance, a leading provider of transcription and dictation services to the health-care sector.

While Burlington, Mass.-based Nuance was able to mitigate the effects of the attack and prevent long-lasting damage, the attack prevented customers from using the company’s services for an extended period of time, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Thursday in a letter released Oct. 19.

The letter asked Nuance, by Nov. 2, to provide the committee with a formal briefing about the circumstances surrounding the initial infection, and the steps it has taken to recover and restore its capabilities.

Nuance didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Congressional Interest

The letter reflects an ongoing Congressional interest in the issue of cybersecurity, W. Reece Hirsch, a health-care attorney with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP in San Francisco, told Bloomberg Law Oct. 19.

As the level of cyberattacks continues to grow, Congress might encourage more sharing of cyberthreat information among health-care organizations, Hirsch said. New legislation probably won’t be in the works due to the robust nature of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Security rule, Hirsch said.

“Cyber attackers continue to be increasingly sophisticated, and it’s hard for health-care organizations to withstand attacks,” Hirsch said. For HIPAA-covered entities, cyberattacks need to be built into the risk analysis, Hirsch, a Bloomberg Law advisory board member, said.

Nuance was hit by the June 27 NotPetya cyberattack, which involved a virus that exploited software vulnerabilities at companies across the globe, often encrypting data and locking out employees.

Walden said Nuance provides services for a large portion of the health-care sector, making it crucial to understand how the company was infected by the NotPetya virus and how it responded to the attack and regained control.

Disrupting Health Care

The NotPetya attack “represents a new challenge in that it is one of the first instances in which a malware infection has so severely disrupted the ability of health care professionals to treat patients,” Walden said in the letter.

Health-care organizations are beginning to create policies to deal with cyberattacks like NotPetya, Hirsch said, but finding the funds to protect against these threats is a challenge. Organizations need to be as smart as possible when they’re investing in their data security, Hirsch said.

This is the committee’s second letter addressing the NotPetya attack, following a Sept. 25 letter to Merck asking for details on how the attack affected that company’s manufacturing capabilities.

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