Change Healthcare cyberattack persists–is the BlackCat gang back and using LockBit malware? BlackCat taking credit. (update 28 Feb #2)

On Day 7, reports, like recollections, may differ. Today’s Reuters report (26 Feb) attributes the attack on Change Healthcare, which has snarled pharmacies and hospitals since Wednesday [TTA 23 Feb], to a revived BlackCat (a/k/a ALPHV) ransomware operation. Readers will recall that the FBI busted BlackCat right before Christmas last year, seizing their operational darknet websites and putting up a most showy home screen. They worked their way into the BlackCat operation via their affiliate operation. However, BlackCat rebooted a few days later, made an appearance, and went back underground. As Bleeping Computer predicted then, BlackCat is apparently back and, adding insult, not even under a new name. 

Bleeping Computer today reported that BlackCat’s hack went through a critical ConnectWise ScreenConnect auth bypass flaw (CVE-2024-1708 and 1709) which was actively exploited in attacks to deploy ransomware on unpatched servers. This was confirmed by Reuters and Health-ISAC, a healthcare-focused organization engaged in cyber best practices and threat intelligence, via the American Hospital Association’s AHA Cybersecurity Advisory today (26 Feb). AHA is advising healthcare organizations to actively reevaluate their connection or disconnection status of Change Healthcare systems which have been deemed safe by Optum.

As of today, BlackCat did not claim credit for taking down Change’s systems nor is there any report of a ransom demand. It is perhaps too early to determine if there has been any data theft. Nor are there reports of other healthcare or other organizations being attacked through the ScreenConnect flaw.

Optum has a page detailing the status of Change Healthcare’s individual systems here. Optum has a statement that has remained nearly the same on issues with connectivity since last Wednesday.* This Editor’s experience of the page is that it needs refreshing to view the full version. Regarding the systems, they are a long list to scroll through and your Editor lost count after 100. Most have red Xs by them. Some systems are checked green. Change is also holding Zoom calls to update partners. Reuters reported that Alphabet’s cybersecurity unit Mandiant is in charge of investigating the attack.

Change Healthcare processes 15 billion healthcare claims annually. This attack seems to have hit their pharmacy software the hardest. These software tools are used to verify patient eligibility for specific medication and also their insurance coverage. The outage not only covers the big chains like CVS and Walgreens, but also Tricare and the Military Health System (MHS) globally. TTA 22 Feb, updated 23 Feb.

A Friday report in SC Magazine indicated that the malware used by BlackCat was a strain of LockBit malware going through the ConnectWise ScreenConnect bypass flaw. Their source, Toby Goucker, chief security officer at First Health Advisory, stated that their firm found the ScreenConnect flaws and sent out a notification on 19 February. Goucker noted that bad actors prey on the gap between when these vulnerabilities are uncovered and announced, but before when patches are applied. However, Goucker was not able to confirm that Change uses ScreenConnect.

Ironically, the LockBit ransomwareistes were busted only last week by a combined UK NCA and US DOJ/FBI effort. Like weeds, they never go away entirely.

Oddly, Change Healthcare’s website home page does not have a notice about their problem or direct to a page on their or UHG’s site about it for assistance. We know you’re busy, guys, but from this Editor’s marketing perspective not having an information banner and redirect to the Optum page is a basic communication failure.

**This is a developing story and will be updated.**

*Update 27 Feb 9am Eastern Time.

A repeat of Optum’s boilerplate statement on their page today indicates this cyberattack is still unresolved for most of Change Healthcare–and will remain unresolved at least through today:

Update – Change Healthcare is experiencing a cyber security issue, and our experts are working to address the matter. Once we became aware of the outside threat, and in the interest of protecting our partners and patients, we took immediate action to disconnect Change Healthcare’s systems to prevent further impact. This action was taken so our customers and partners do not need to. We have a high-level of confidence that Optum, UnitedHealthcare and UnitedHealth Group systems have not been affected by this issue.

We are working on multiple approaches to restore the impacted environment and will not take any shortcuts or take any additional risk as we bring our systems back online. We will continue to be proactive and aggressive with all our systems and if we suspect any issue with the system, we will immediately take action and disconnect. The disruption is expected to last at least through the day. We will provide updates as more information becomes available.
Feb 272024 – 09:03 EST

Identical message 28 Feb 10:48am ET indicating that the effects of this attack are now one week old.

Updated 28 Feb: (“The Office of Inadequate Security”) reports that BlackCat is taking credit for it.

“BlackCat informed DataBreaches that yes, they are responsible for the attack. DataBreaches has asked them if they are willing to share any additional details and will update this post if any are received.”

This Editor is also following coverage in the usually reliable The Register which added a reply they obtained from Optum: “Since identifying the cyber incident, we have worked closely with customers and clients to ensure people have access to the medications and the care they need. We also continue to work closely with law enforcement and a number of third parties, including Mandiant and Palo Alto Networks, on this attack against Change Healthcare’s systems.” They are not confirming the perpetrators. 

#2 update from DataBreaches may point to Change Healthcare as well as healthcare in general. Here is part of a Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA) that is an ongoing #StopRansomware effort by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). CISA was joined by the FBI and interestingly, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). They “are releasing this joint CSA to disseminate known IOCs and TTPs associated with the ALPHV Blackcat ransomware as a service (RaaS) identified through FBI investigations as recently as February 2024.” The addition of HHS as well as February 2024 should be noted. “FBI, CISA, and HHS encourage critical infrastructure organizations to implement the recommendations in the Mitigations section of this CSA to reduce the likelihood and impact of ALPHV Blackcat ransomware and data extortion incidents.” Could this be behind what is going on at Change Healthcare–a BlackCat full-court press versus US healthcare?

And at least one major hospital CEO wants answers now. Tampa General Hospital CEO John Couris went up to Optum’s CEO Amar Desai in the speaker room at the ViVE conference in Los Angeles on Monday, and the answer was far less than satisfactory. “And his answer to me was, ‘We’ll have an update in two days.’ So I don’t think he knows.” Mr. Couris’ speculates that Change Healthcare will 1) not pay ransom and 2) will rebuild its systems in maybe four weeks–and how that puts hospitals like his that use Change as a clearing house for claims in, to put it mildly, a pickle. MedCityNews

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