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Barrie clinics partially crippled by 'cyber-security incident'

Barrie and Community Family Health Team official says there's 'no evidence to believe that patient information has been impacted'
The Barrie and Community Family Health Team (BCFHT) confirmed to BarrieToday on March 11 what they are calling a “cyber-security incident” involving their computer network. Pictured is one of their clinics at Big Bay Point Road and Prince William Way in the city's south end.

A possible ransomware attack has stung a network of local medical clinics in Barrie, affecting several facilities and dozens of doctors, BarrieToday has learned.

The Barrie and Community Family Health Team (BCFHT), which operates the clinics, confirmed what they are calling a “cyber-security incident” involving their computer network.

Matt Orava, chair of the board of directors for the Barrie and Community Family Health Team, said it is working with external legal counsel and third-party cyber-security experts to "contain, remediate and conduct an investigation" into the incident.

“Additionally, BCFHT has notified local and national law-enforcement agencies and is fully co-operating with their investigations,” he added.

An official with the Barrie Police Service (BPS) confirmed to BarrieToday that a complaint was lodged last Friday through their online reporting system, and has since been forwarded to the local fraud unit.

The RCMP also replied to an inquiry from BarrieToday, offering no information in relation to the case, but directing questions to Barrie police. 

Orava said the incident was discovered during the week of March 8.

He went on to explain that “the majority of BCFHT’s business and patient services are operational, including the Prince William Way and Bell Farm (Road) walk-in clinics.”

BCFHT continues to work on restoring its phone services, added Orava, which is anticipated to be complete in the coming days.

“BCFHT has no evidence to believe that patient information has been impacted,” he said. “Furthermore, our EMR (electronic medical records) system is housed separately and was not impacted by the incident."

The investigation is ongoing and further details will be provided on their webpage "as and when they become available," Orava said. "In the event BCFHT determines sensitive or personal information has been impacted, they will contact the necessary parties as soon as possible.”

In a series of follow-up questions emailed to Orava on Tuesday, he stated they “have incident response and disaster recovery and business continuity procedures in place that allows our clinics to provide services during such events. An example of this is downtime procedures where physician offices can use paper and fax machines to send requisitions for investigations and referrals.”

When asked whether any threats had been made in connection with the security breach, Orava said “as this matter is currently under investigation, we cannot comment on the nature of this incident.

“While we endeavour to be as transparent as possible, we also want to ensure information regarding the incident is accurate," he added. "We have asked clinics to forward any inquiries to myself in order to provide the information (BarrieToday needs) while upholding the confidentiality and integrity of our ongoing investigation.”

BarrieToday left messages with several local clinics believed to have been affected, but did not receive responses. 

Barrie police communications co-ordinator Peter Leon said there was no update on the ongoing investigation Wednesday.

"It seems to be becoming more and more prevalent ... and among businesses," he told BarrieToday.

In the case of ransomware attacks, which many network breaches are, "the number one advice police always offer is to never pay a ransom ... it gives the individuals the ability to continue it, and once you pay a ransom, is it going to be the end of your problems? Probably not," explained Leon.

Meanwhile, another cyber-attack has been reported in Huntsville this week, instigating the closure of its town hall, along with affecting other government systems within the municipality.

"At this time, we have no evidence any sensitive data, including personal information, has been compromised," the town said in a release.

It is not known if the two incidents are related.

Kevin Lamb

About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
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