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5/28/2014
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Healthcare IT Security Worse Than Retail, Study Says

Bad news for healthcare community: New study shows retailers like Target and eBay are more secure than many healthcare organizations.

Healthcare Dives Into Big Data
Healthcare Dives Into Big Data
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Healthcare organizations are rife with insecurity, and it's only a question of when a Target-like attack puts millions of patient health information (PHI) files on the black market, a new study suggests.

A large-scale attack within the healthcare industry could put patients' safety and lives at stake, cautioned Stephen Boyer, CTO of security rating firm BitSight Technology, in an interview. Despite increasing awareness about these risks, healthcare organizations far behind their peers in other vertical markets, Boyer said, citing a BitSight study titled Will Healthcare Be the Next Retail?, released May 28.

Of four industries the study analyzed, healthcare saw the largest surge in attacks and was slowest to respond, taking more than five days to remediate security issues. By comparison, finance took about 3.5 days, and retail and utilities combatted issues within approximately four days. Some healthcare organizations led the market, using best practices and adequate resources, but as a sector, healthcare is weaker than others.

According to Boyer, however, that may be improving. "I don't know of a major breach of healthcare records, but stay tuned. I know that certainly there's worry about privacy. I see more transparency going into the process and I think that's going to put the right incentives in place," he said. "The Target breach was just a watershed moment in the industry. It's changing conversations everywhere we go."

[Are you prepared for insider threats? Read Colleagues In Cuffs: When Employees Steal Patient Records.]

For its report, BitSight analyzed the security performance of Standard & Poor 500 firms based on data such as communication with a botnet, malware distribution, or spam propagation, and determined that last year, 82% of organizations suffered a security compromise. Within the finance, utilities, retail, and healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, healthcare showed the worst performance overall, according to the study.

(Source: BitSight Technology, 'Will Healthcare Be the Next Retail?')

(Source: BitSight Technology, "Will Healthcare Be the Next Retail?")

PHI has real value to thieves. On the black market, Boyer said, a patient's electronic medical record sells for about $20; by comparison, credit card data sells for approximately $1 per card. Some patients could be embarrassed if their health records become public, opening them to blackmail or other victimization. Thieves also sell PHI to those without insurance.

"You can go and get healthcare. You can go and get treatment. You can buy drugs," Boyer said. "Obviously there's fraud. Those visits, those prescriptions, go on your record. That's moving cybertheft into life and death."

Unlike finance firms that have secured money since their earliest days, healthcare organizations are typically comparatively new to the world of data protection. Their mission is to deliver care, not safeguard bytes of data, Boyer explained, so awareness, cognition of the full range of insecurities, and resources are not available across the industry.

The Department of Health and Human Services tackled the issue with a stick: Bigger fines for breached organizations. Earlier this month, for instance, HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) settled a $4.8 million HIPAA breach case with New York and Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University. That scrutiny may only increase in light of retailers' recent breaches, according to Paul Trulove, VP of products at SailPoint.

"On the heels of such well-known data breaches at Target and even [more recent] news of the cyberattack on eBay, auditors are going to put even more scrutiny on healthcare organizations as the data they house is even more valuable than consumer data," he said in an interview.

Rules such as HIPAA and the HITECH Act have generally done a good job of protecting patient data. Often human error causes breaches, Michael Raggo, security evangelist at MobileIron, told InformationWeek.

"I will never say never, but the healthcare industry has seen a disproportionately low instance of cyberattacks, and rather a higher proportion of accidental data loss through well-intentioned but risky user behaviors on the device or lost devices. A major reason for a low instance of cyberattacks is because stringent HIPAA guidelines are a core part of the data security and compliance strategy of all healthcare organizations in the United States," Raggo said. "That said, cyberattacks are increasing, as are the number of attack vectors organizations need to protect."

Likewise, Boyer added, older healthcare systems may not include the latest technological safeguards. In fact, he pointed out, one healthcare official recently received an implementation pitch that included computers running Windows XP, an operating system Microsoft no longer supports with security upgrades.

"I know there are some key conversations going on now on things that will improve [healthcare security]," he said. "I'm less optimistic they'll happen quickly. This is not a super agile environment inside hospitals and health organizations. It's going to be difficult to turn around."

If a big breach occurs within healthcare, Boyer warned, patients could react by switching providers or insurers, or being less forthcoming with physicians -- even to the detriment of their health.

Download Healthcare IT In The Obamacare Era, the InformationWeek Healthcare digital issue on changes driven by regulation. Modern technology created the opportunity to restructure the healthcare industry around accountable care organizations, but ACOs also put new demands on IT.

Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
7/31/2014 | 4:34:32 PM
Re: healthcare security
That's really great to hear, @SarahBeene. You almost wish there was a Good Housekeeping seal for practices! Sounds as though you'd be on the list!
HudnallsHuddle
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HudnallsHuddle,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/31/2014 | 3:55:19 PM
Headlines and a Sacrificial Lamb are Coming Soon
Leaving security out of the plan to implement these networks and shared partient information is a short sided view to the HealthIT transformation many have underway. Encryption is not the silver bullet to protecting patient information. HealthIT organizations mus be diligent in monitoring behavior, access, use, etc. in order to put the meat behind a meaningful use attestation. I'm quite surprised CFO's are not more stringent in these organizations as they are the ones facing personal charges of fraud. This has gotten personal and not just corporate fines. I believe this is a ticking time bomb ripe to explode. Read more here > http://bit.ly/1zapjjn

 

@HudnallsHuddle
SarahBeene
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SarahBeene,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/10/2014 | 9:29:59 AM
Re: healthcare security
I'm well and truly on the encryption bandwagon! As the owner of a small practice, I am frantically aware of the complications and risks of handling patients PHI. I appreciate the volume of data we handle isn't as as high as the Standard & Poor 500 firms used by BitSight in their study, however studies like this always worry me. We want to be able to reassure our patients as I would hate to think they would hold details back out of worry, especially if it is detrimental to their health.

I have tried to eliminate as many manual processes as possible to keep everything water-tight, using cloud services like sfax as they have ensured HIPAA compliancy. Although as Michael Raggo has said, human error can cause breaches, and I doubt we'll ever be able to fully protect people from that. For now I'm going to keep encrypting all PHI, especially when shared with other departments!
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
6/9/2014 | 10:26:50 AM
Re: PHI Hack Coming to You Very Soon
You're exactly right: PHI will be hacked and the fact that the government is moving toward a centarlized database of healthcare records and the possible creation of a healthcare ID number should send alarm bells off. When you have studies demonstrating that healthcare, as an industry, is far less secure than the notably insecure retail market, we should be extremely worried. I don't think we're being alarmist when we say this will have much more dire implications than financial fraud.
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
6/6/2014 | 6:10:42 PM
PHI Hack Coming to You Very Soon
Boyer believes the latest Target breach was a "watershed" event?  Evidently, he missed the other two breaches perpetrated inside of three years at Target in addition to the 867,292,654 (and counting) million records breached (that are known) compiled by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.  Hacked PHI isn't an IF as much as it is a WHEN, and, when it does happen, consumers can expect the same hemming/hawing and blowing off of the event by both industry as well the lapdog government that continues to look the other way.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
6/2/2014 | 4:04:55 PM
Re: Watch Out, Finance?
You raise great points, @AmandaInMotion, in that perhaps finance isn't a great bastion of security; it's just less bad than the other verticals in the study. After all, banks get hacked and as you say, the NSA has its fingers in just about every pie. 

Personally, I'm concerned about healthcare data and lack of privacy. Almost every day I get a press release touting the use of "anonymized" data by one company, research firm, or university -- and that's data coming from doctors, hospitals, insurance firms, or government. In other words, it's patient data but I don't recall ever agreeing (or disagreeing) to allowing my data to be used in this way. Nor do I know anything about the standards used or not used or what happens when some of these companies go out of business. When my daughter started middle school, I discovered there's a central database where schools can look up kids' vaccinations. The IRS oversees health insurance coverage. And companies troll social media for mentions of individuals' medical complaints, treatments, and symptoms. 
AmandaInMotion
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AmandaInMotion,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/2/2014 | 12:07:53 PM
Re: Watch Out, Finance?
I don't know that the establishment finance world is much more terribly secure. All of us are at risk of spying and hacking from both government and non-government actors alike. It's a little lengthy, but this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtQ7LNeC8Cs) by Jacob Applebaum, writer at Der Spiegel, explains how the NSA has deliberately made the Internet a less secure place to be over the years. It blew my mind.

Allow me a moment to be trite and say, "It didn't have to be this way." I just think of all the people who need routine healthcare (http://tinyurl.com/oa65dqu) or the people headed into retirement. 

I gain hope, however, in believing that the system really will be so inefficient - like the disgraced VA hospitals - that private alternatives will pop up left and right. They'll have to, otherwise most of us will literally be left with Soviet-quality "health care".
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
5/30/2014 | 10:07:34 AM
Watch Out, Finance?
Do you think healthcare organizations will become more likely to try and recruit security professionals from finance? Or is healthcare too specialized, their budgets too tight (compared with finance) for this approach to work?
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
5/30/2014 | 10:05:02 AM
Re: Why ever store credit card numbers?
@Jon, I believe you're correct about those stolen CC numbers. This report didn't get into how healthcare data is being stolen. Information from HHS seems to indicate most is taken due to lack of encryption when hardware -- laptops, smartphones, etc. -- get stolen or lost. But this report suggests healthcare organizations WILL be attacked in a much more organized fashion. And if/when that happens, the general lack of preparedness will lead to a huge loss of personal health information, much bigger than anything we have yet seen from the world of retail.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
5/30/2014 | 10:01:51 AM
Re: healthcare security
How can vendors make their systems more secure, @moarsauce123? Do you think they should automatically encrypt all data, for example? Do you know of any vendors who are doing a better job than others?
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
Healthcare Data Breaches Cost More Than You Think
Healthcare Data Breaches Cost More Than You Think
Healthcare providers just don't get it. They refuse to see the need to fully secure their protected health information from unauthorized users -- and from authorized users who abuse their access privileges. As a result, they don't allocate enough budgetary resources for securing medical data.
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