Guest post by Sergio Galindo, general manager, GFI Software.
With stolen medical data selling on the black market at a rate anywhere between 10 to 50 times that of stolen credit card numbers, hackers have a new favorite target – the healthcare industry.
The industry is a sitting duck, and hackers have declared open season. Indeed, we have seen several extremely high-profile penetrations of healthcare companies in the past months, and more are likely in the coming months. Anyone with medical insurance should pay attention to the increasing number of data security breaches.
Consider the three most high-profile security incidents that have recently struck the healthcare industry. Community Health Systems claims that no medical information was exposed when the insurer was hacked, but the breach affected some 4.5 million records within their systems. In February of this year, Anthem reported that a breach resulted in 80 million records stolen, and recently data attackers broke into Premera Blue Cross and obtained medical and financial data of 11 million of their customers, stealing both electronic health records (EHR) and protected health information (PHI).
While stolen credit card data may fetch between $1 and $2 per record, EHRs are far more lucrative for hackers, often going for $20 to $50 per entry. This value stems from several reasons:
EHRs can contain data that enables identity theft;
Stolen EHRs can be used to commit insurance fraud;
Users can use EHRs to obtain medical services and prescription medications; and
EHRs can also be used for extortion.
It’s worth noting that the value of stolen data increases relative to its longevity as a source of revenue. Credit card numbers are often replaced in 30 to 90 days (a new number issued); business information remains valid for up to three years (price lists, customer database), for example, while medical information can remain valid for more than 10 years. Social Security numbers have the longest ROI for cybercriminals because they last until the individual passes away (and even then they are still used).
Here’s what we know. In the Anthem hack, it is estimated that approximately 80 million records were stolen. The Anthem hackers stole information of both employees and customers, which included names, address, emails, birth dates, medication history, employment details, family relatives and more. But while most hackers steal financial data for spending sprees – these hackers had next-step intentions with the stolen data serving as the basis for phishing emails with attachments for the purposes of installing malware using their official email accounts, gathering even more personal information, and then it was propagated across entire networks. So now what?
Know the facts. According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, up until Anthem, since 2006, about 6.6 million records have been exposed from 79 medical-related breaches of hacking or malware type. Last year, Community Health Systems Inc. announced a large data breach of its health system compromising data for 4.5 million patients and now Anthem at the 80 million mark. Attackers like targeting EHRs because the records are highly profitable compared to other forms of information. For example, each credit card data is valued about $1 in the black market. However, according to various sources, a partial or complete EHR can generate $50 to $100 on the black market. The high price is because of the healthcare data includes personal identity information and sometimes carries credit card information along with insurance and personal health information. So, while financial information can be tracked and secured following a breach — the healthcare information cannot be as easily tracked and resolved.
Current mandates. Every EHR provider should safeguard data and information with HIPAA-complaint communication protocols, 128-bit encryption and public key authentication. As per the HIPAA norms of strong grade encryption and authentication, providers should meet all the regulatory requirements enabling security and confidentiality. Scheduled backups of the data are essential to keeping records and information from being lost or destroyed.