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Health system with patients in Mercer County victim of hackers

| Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

A cyberattack that siphoned personal information from several million people is striking an undisclosed number of patients in the Mercer County area.

Sharon Regional Health System is an affiliate of Tennessee-based Community Health Systems Inc., which disclosed this week that data belonging to more than 4 million patients fell victim to the attack in April and June.

Hackers in China appear to have carried out the breach, relying on advanced malware and other methods to steal patient names, birthdates and phone and Social Security numbers, according to CHS.

The affected patients were referred to or received care in the past five years from CHS-linked doctors, though the hospital operator said hackers didn't take credit card or medical records.

Sharon Regional spokesman Ed Newmeyer said the thieves took information about some patients who visited physician practices and clinics affiliated with the northwestern Pennsylvania health system. He would not specify how many Sharon Regional patients were affected.

“We take very seriously the security and confidentiality of private patient information, and we sincerely regret any concern or inconvenience to patients,” Newmeyer said in a statement.

“Though we have no reason to believe that this data would ever be used, all affected patients are being notified by letter and offered free identity-theft protection.”

CHS worked with federal law enforcement agencies in their investigation, asked an outside forensic expert for help and took steps to prevent intrusions, company privacy officer Andi Bosshart said in a statement.

The company owns, leases or operates 206 hospitals in 29 states, including 20 in Pennsylvania. The Sharon system is the only CHS operation in Western Pennsylvania.

The FBI in Washington said it's still looking into the scope of the attack. Anyone notified by the company should “take steps to monitor and safeguard their personally identifiable information,” the FBI said in a statement.

The agency encouraged those affected to report suspected identity theft to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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