A New Cross-Industry Report Looks at the Spreading Global Threat from Data Breaches | Healthcare Informatics Magazine | Health IT | Information Technology Skip to content Skip to navigation

A New Cross-Industry Report Looks at the Spreading Global Threat from Data Breaches

April 28, 2017
by Mark Hagland
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A new report from Verizon Security Research puts the phenomenon of data breaches in the healthcare industry into a trans-industry context

A new report from Verizon Security Research offers insights into how the healthcare industry compares with other industries with regard to data security, and in particular data breaches of various types. On April 27, the organization released its “2017 Data Breach Investigation Report,” the tenth annual such report, based on researchers’ examination of actual cyberattacks in several different industries.

Researchers have analyzed more than 42,000 cybersecurity incidents and nearly 2,000 data breaches from across 84 different countries, and from across several industries, defined as “accommodation and food services,” “educational services,” “financial and insurance,” “information,” manufacturing,” “public administration,” “retail,” and “healthcare.”

In the press release accompanying the release of the report, it was noted that “Healthcare has the unenviable task of balancing protection of large amounts of personal and medical data with the need for quick access to practitioners. Internal actors are well represented, with employees accessing patient data out of curiosity, or to commit identity fraud.” Meanwhile, the report’s authors noted, “privilege misuse, miscellaneous errors, and physical theft and loss represent 80 percent of breaches within healthcare,” with 68 percent of the threat actors being internal, 32 percent external, and 6 percent “partner.”

The report’s authors write of healthcare, “Being an information security professional for a healthcare organization is not easy. You have to deal with a multitude of medical records, stored electronically (in centralized databases and laptops alike), and possibly still on paper,” they note. “Those records also have personal information (name, address, social security number) often riding along. This information needs to be accessible quickly for patient care, so draconian access control mechanisms may do more harm than good. Another item to add to the ‘things-that---healthcare-CISOs’ list is the disclosure requirements for the industry. Insider misuse is a major issue for the Healthcare industry,” they point out. “In fact it is the only industry where employees are the predominant threat actors in breaches. Interestingly enough,” they write, “figure 20 shows the insiders’ motives are almost equally divided between financial and fun. This is a product of a lot of sensitive data that may be accessed by legions of staff members containing PII —that is perfect for identity theft—and medical history (sometimes of friends or relatives), that is very tempting for enquiring minds (that want to know!).”

What’s more, they state, “Doctors losing laptops, X-rays accidentally ending up in landfills, and employees giving J. Tinker’s discharge papers to J. Evers (and Evers’ to Chance) all help Miscellaneous Errors remain a top 3 pattern again this year. The breach counts in Figure 21 show that misdelivery, disposal errors and lost assets combine for almost 30 percent of all healthcare breaches—showing that it isn’t just malicious insiders that you need to worry about.”

One important qualification in terms of the methodology and conclusions in the report is around they’ve defined ransomware. “In our dataset, ransomware attacks are not counted as breaches, because typically we cannot confirm that data confidentiality was violated,” the report’s authors note. “However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has given guidance that ransomware incidents should be treated as a breach for reporting purposes. This year, ransomware accounts for 72 percent of malware incidents in the healthcare industry.”

Drilling down across all types of data breaches and across all seven industries covered by the report—accommodation, education, finance, healthcare, information, manufacturing, public, and retail—the report’s authors provide data points on page 10 of the report that offer further insight.

The table on that page spans three conceptual areas—“pattern,” “action,” and asset.”

In healthcare, under the “pattern” category, the data breaches recorded in the report break down as follows, by type; in descending order of numbers, they are as follows: “privilege misuse,” 125 incidents; “miscellaneous errors,” 114; “lost and stolen assets,” 92; “crimeware,” 54; “web app attacks,” 32; “point of sale,” 4; “denial of service,” 3; “cyber-espionage,” 2; and “everything else,” 40. It is interesting to compare the volume of incidents involving “privilege misuse,” “lost and stolen assets,” and “crimeware” in healthcare, with the volume of those types of other incidents in other industries, internationally. In that context, the volume of such incidents in healthcare parallels the volume of such incidents in the public sector, and differs from such volume across the accommodation, finance, education, manufacturing, and retail industries.

Meanwhile, in the “action” section, the categorization of data breaches in healthcare breaks down as follows: “error,” 154 incidents; “misuse,” 125; “hacking,” 84; “physical,” 73; “malware,” 66; and “social,” 37. In this “action” section as well, the volume of incidents in these specific categories, in healthcare, matches the public sector as well, and contrasts with the patterns of action in the other major industries.

And in terms of assets involved, the breakdown is as follows: “server,” 184; “media, 145; “user dev,” 76; “person,” 41; and “network,” 3.

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