New Strategies for Preventing Healthcare Data Breaches

Guest post by Carl Wright, general manager, TrapX Security.

Carl Wright
Carl Wright

In August 2015, my colleague Moshe Ben Simon contributed an Electronic Health Reporter story about how hospitals can protect against data breach using deception technologies. Since then, TrapX Labs, the research and development group within TrapX Security, has seen substantial evidence that cyber attackers have continued their attacks on healthcare targets. The number of attacks, quantity of data stolen and the sophisticated human attackers that TrapX Labs continues to track are increasing quarterly. Out of the top seven data breaches of 2015, three of them (Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, Premera Blue Cross and Anthem) lost more than 100 million records combined.

On Jan. 4, 2016, the Identify Theft Resource Center (ITRC) reported that 66.7 percent of all records breached came from the healthcare industry. Healthcare continues to be targeted because of the high value of the data and the vulnerabilities healthcare institutions are susceptible to, such as the medical device hijack (MEDJACK). More information on MEDJACK can be found here.

The convergence of this healthcare cyberwar with incomplete HIPAA compliance creates a double jeopardy situation for healthcare professionals. Not only must healthcare institutions deal with the damage inflicted by a cyber attacker and then manage the data breach penalties, but they also face investigation and additional penalties from HHS. Hospitals, accountable care organization (ACO) networks, large physician practices, health insurance companies, diagnostic laboratories, radiology/skilled nursing facilities, surgical centers and others are high value targets for attackers and all face these risks.

Training is Essential

New strategies to prevent healthcare data breaches have evolved in many areas. Regular training for both clinicians and non-clinicians can have a positive impact on reducing successful attacks.

Clinicians and non-clinicians need to recognize that their “connected” healthcare environment needs to be tightly controlled. IBM’s “2014 Cyber Security Intelligence Index” noted that 95 percent of all security incidents seem to involve human error. Even a MEDJACK usually starts with an email or website based attack. Assuming a healthcare organization’s network perimeter and internal defenses are properly configured and updated, the next step a healthcare organization should take to substantially reduce its risk is implement a rigorous employee training program.

The first component of training comes during orientation. New employees typically receive passwords and authentication information from information technology (IT), the help desk and supervisors in their area, and it’s imperative they manage them in a safe manner (no yellow sticky notes, please).

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Hospitals Can Protect Against Data Breach Using Deception Technologies

Guest post by Moshe Ben-Simon, co-founder and vice president of services and research, TrapX Security.

Moshe Ben-Simon
Moshe Ben-Simon

Healthcare is a major market in the United States with annual expenditures that consume almost 17.4 percent of the gross domestic product. Healthcare in the U.S. includes 893,851 physicians, 2,724,570 registered nurses, including physician’s assistants and administrative staff that support them. Additionally, there are approximately 5,686 hospitals that support these professionals directly. The great majority of physician practices now have electronic medical records (EMR/EHR) systems that are all interconnected with the rest of the ecosystem.

The typical hospital is replete with Internet connected systems and medical devices. These devices are also connected to EMR systems that are being deployed at a fast pace across practices and hospitals because of government incentives, such as meaningful use. This creates a highly connected community that brings the most vulnerable devices together with some of the highest value data.

Medical records = big money for organized crime

Healthcare data presents a compelling opportunity for organized crime. Cybersecurity firm Dell Secure Works notes that cyber criminals were getting paid $20 to $40 for health insurance credentials, compared with $1 to $2 for U.S. credit card numbers prior to the Target Breach. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a private industry notification (PIN) report in April 2014 that noted cyber-attacks will increase against healthcare systems and medical devices because of lax cybersecurity standards and a higher financial payout for medical records in the black market.

As of Mar. 30, 2015, the Identify Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has healthcare breach incidents at 32.7 percent of all listed incidents nationwide. Per ITRC, for the first quarter of 2015, more than 99,335,375 medical records have been exposed and compromised in the United States alone.

As in other industries, the attackers in healthcare may be standalone operators or part of larger organized crime syndicates. The great majority are clearly after valuable healthcare data and economic gain. Health insurance credentials can have a value 20 times that of a credit card on the hacker black market. These attackers know that healthcare networks are more vulnerable and provide greater potential rewards. They have already determined that these vulnerabilities are so extreme as to make healthcare the easiest choice for their attack.

Despite the latest/greatest perimeter network security technology, hackers continue to get in

The risk for ongoing data exfiltration, theft and subsequent HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) violations has never been higher. Basic defense-in-depth cyber security products seem to be failing at an increasing rate. The concept of defending a perimeter around hospital networks no longer works against a variety of cyber-attack vectors. Recent studies suggest that most hospitals are unaware of active attackers likely hiding within their medical devices inside their networks already.

These medical devices have become the key pivot points for attackers within healthcare networks. They are visible points of vulnerability in the healthcare enterprise and the hardest area to remediate even when attacker compromise is identified. These persistent cyber-attacks threaten overall hospital operations and the security of patient data.

Most hospital information technology teams are managing a very heavy workload. They must deal with a multitude of vendors and supporting a diverse set of networks across the hospital. Further, they must work to be compliant with HIPAA security rules and other compliance requirements. Cyber security products issue a multitude of alerts and can overwhelm these hospital teams while real cyber security event alerts are perhaps hidden or missed.

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