Motivated Attackers Will Find a Way Into Any Given Network

Guest post by David Thompson, senior director, product management, LightCyber.

David Thompson
David Thompson

Healthcare organizations are stuck between being an ever increasing target of a data breach and generally having less security resources than a comparable enterprise. It’s a classic situation of needing more with less, with all of the urgency of a full-scale crisis.

Now it’s not uncommon to see the same organization suffer its second or third data breach, and patience (patients too) are wearing thin. At the same time, we know that many organizations have intruders that are lingering and have stayed hidden for a year or more. It’s possible the cybercriminals are using an undiscovered foothold in one organization to get to another within the same health or provider network.

Almost without exception, healthcare organizations of all sizes seem helpless to be able to stop a data breach. Stopping a breach means different things to different people, and that is part of the problem. A good portion of the industry is still focused on completely keeping an intruder from getting into their network. This is a fool’s errand and simply not achievable. Motivated attackers will find a way into any given network. Some professional vulnerability contractors will guarantee that they can break in to your network within two days. There are far too many ways for an attacker to get in, particularly through an employee account or computer.

So, you can’t keep a network intruder out, but you can try to detect their presence as quickly as possible. Almost all healthcare organizations currently lack this capability, but some newer solutions and procedures are showing great promise in making the speedy detection of a network attacker a reality. The good news is that these approaches might only require an hour or two of personnel time each day—and sometimes quite a bit less than that—so it is well within the means of a small healthcare IT group that wears multiple hats and is always pulled thin.

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Why Healthcare Organizations are Sick with a Data Breach, and How to End the Epidemic

Guest post by David Thompson, senior director, product management, LightCyber.

David Thompson
David Thompson

A targeted data breach is one of the most vexing problems facing healthcare organizations today. Just in the first three months of 2015 alone, 99 million patient healthcare records were compromised—that’s about one-third of the entire U.S. population, and those are just the ones we know about. According to some sources, 90 percent of healthcare organizations have already been breached, but we aren’t sure which ones.

The cybercriminals behind a targeted data breach do not want to be exposed—and make no mistake, these breaches are run by people, not autonomous software. Unlike the hackers of earlier days, these operatives want to stay hidden and conduct their work in secret. Even if they have successfully completed their initial goals—let’s say exfiltrate patient medical records—a cybercriminal team will likely want to stay undiscovered to continue to steal more data as it is collected, or leverage this access to break into another company. Often this will involve commandeering valid credentials from the first organization to gain access to another, perhaps a partner healthcare organization, an insurance company, an independent lab or some other entity.

The simple truth is that most healthcare organizations lack the means to detect an active data breach. First, let me define a data breach, since there is so much confusion over the term. A breach is the entire process—from initial network penetration through data exfiltration— cybercriminals go through to achieve their goals.

Often a breach is perceived as only the initial penetration into the network or infection of a machine. This one act is over in an instant, but it is the focus of considerable security resources. In other words, a large proportion of security resources are devoted to preventing single step in the breach process that lasts less than a minute, but is only the first step toward a goal.

Also, initial penetration is not as easy to spot and block as you might guess. Since the way into the network may be accomplished through the use of valid credentials acquired through social engineering or clever spear phishing, detecting the intrusion can be difficult. Effective prevention of intrusions is based on use of statically defined descriptions of software code or behavior (signatures and hashes), so it is successful mainly when known malware is used to conduct a breach. So, preventing an intrusion has a marginal success rate, but it is often seen as the last change an organization has in defeating a targeted breach.

Once an attacker is inside the network, most organizations lack the ability to find them. At the same time, an attacker is inherently at a disadvantage, having landed inside an unfamiliar network. This disadvantage is quickly dissipated since they can often go completely undetected for weeks, months or even longer. The industry average dwell time is around six months, plenty of time for an attacker to explore a network and get at assets.

Why is it that organizations are seemingly powerless to find an active data breach once an intruder has penetrated a network? There are four main reasons.

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