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Cybersecurity Report: Stakes are High, but Healthcare Orgs Ill-Equipped

March 12, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal
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About 62 percent of healthcare executives admitted to experiencing a cyber attack in the past year, with more than half losing patient data as a result, according to a new survey from Merlin International, a cybersecurity solutions provider for healthcare organizations, in partnership with the Ponemon Institute.

Recognizing that hospitals and payer organizations are facing constant, increasingly destructive cyber attacks, this survey of 627 healthcare organization executives looked to examine the myriad of cybersecurity-related challenges and how organizations are (or are not) addressing them.

Among healthcare providers surveyed, the majority set, manage and/or determine IT priorities, budgets and strategy while working at organizations counting between 100-500 patient beds (67 percent) and with an estimated 10,000 to 100,000 network connected devices (66 percent).

The survey data revealed that organizations are equally concerned with external attacks (63 percent) as they are with employee negligence or malicious insiders (64 percent). But what are the bad guys after? When asked, respondents highlighted the top five items: patient medical records (77 percent); patient billing information (56 percent); log-in credentials (54 percent); passwords and other authentication credentials to systems, servers or applications (49 percent); and clinical trial and other research information (45 percent).

What’s more, hackers, who are eager to cause chaos, steal or hold data for ransom subject healthcare organizations to all types of attacks. The exploitation of existing software vulnerabilities greater than three months old leads the way at 71 percent, followed closely by Web-borne malware attacks at 69 percent. While the report found many traditional attack types being used, the rise of ransomware—at 37 percent—"should raise alarm as this is a new and lucrative attack vector. Hackers are successfully earning significant income from holding systems and data hostage,” the researchers found.

Another concern is the security of medical devices. 65 percent surveyed responded “no” or “unsure” when asked whether the security of medical devices is part of their overall cybersecurity strategy. And though these devices appear to be a new and growing target for attackers, 31 percent have no plans to include them in the near future.

More than half (52 percent) of those surveyed agreed that a lack of employee awareness and training affects their ability to achieve a strong security posture. In addition, 74 percent cited insufficient staffing as the biggest obstacle to maintaining a fully effective security posture. According to responses, only 51 percent of organizations have a dedicated chief information security officer (CISO) and 60 percent surveyed don’t think they have the right cybersecurity qualifications in-house. What’s more, only half of the organizations (51 percent) have any type of incident response program at all.

“In an increasingly connected, digitally centric world, hackers have more opportunities and incentive than ever to target healthcare data, and the problem will only increase in scope over time,” Merlin International’s Director of Healthcare Strategy, Brian Wells, said in a statement. “Healthcare organizations must get even more serious about cybersecurity to protect themselves and their patients from losing access to or control of the proprietary and personal information and systems the industry depends on to provide essential care.”

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Minnesota DHS Acknowledges Increase in Targeted Phishing Attacks

October 15, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal, Managing Editor
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Two phishing attacks on employees at the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) resulted in the possible leakage of about 21,000 Minnesotans’ personal information.

The state health agency issued a notice last week that explained over the last several months, several phishing campaigns have targeted Minnesota’s executive agencies, including DHS. Two of these attacks were deemed “successful,” in that hackers—once in June and another time in July—were able to gain access to the state email accounts of two DHS employees, using these accounts to send out spam emails. The agency’s IT department didn’t find out about the attacks until August, officials said.

According to DHS, the two email accounts contained information about some people who have interacted with DHS, including the Minnesota citizens who were notified. Examples of the type of information found in the email accounts at the time they were compromised include: first and last names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, addresses, telephone numbers, medical information, educational records, employment records, and/or financial information, officials noted.

The agency did add in its notice, “We currently have no evidence that this information was actually viewed, downloaded, or misused.”

According to a report in the Minnesota Star Tribune, this is just the latest cyberattack on Minnesota’s state agencies, “which fend off about 3 million hacking attempts daily, state officials have said. In fact, attacks are increasing, said Aaron Call, the chief information security officer for Minnesota IT Services, which provides technology services to state executive agencies,” according to that report.

In fact, in just the past nine months, “more than 700 security incidents have been reported affecting state agencies, Call said, adding that the attacks are becoming ‘more pervasive and more sophisticated,’” according to the Star Tribune report.

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CISOs, CIOs Not Confident in Their Medical Device Security Strategy, New KLAS Research Finds

October 9, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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According to a survey of CIOs and CISOs, healthcare organizations have an average of 10,000 connected medical devices
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The healthcare industry continues to be bombarded with security attacks, and these cyber attacks are continuously evolving and become more sophisticated over time. At the same time, the healthcare ecosystem has become more connected with the increasing use of Internet of Things (IoT) medical devices, and these medical devices introduce vulnerabilities into healthcare organizations.

Unsecured and poorly secured medical devices put patients at risk of great harm if those devices are hacked, while also posing a threat to the security and privacy of patients’ protected health information (PHI). A recent medical device security report, the result of a collaborative effort between the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), the Association for Executives in Healthcare Information Security (AEHIS), and the Orem, Utah-based KLAS Research, sheds light on the current state of the medical device security industry. For the report, KLAS interviewed 148 CIOs, chief information security officers (CISOs), chief technology officers (CTOs) and other professionals at provider organizations to gauge their level of confidence in their medical device security strategies, the most common challenges they face, their perceptions of the security and transparency of major medical device manufacturers, and the best practices they leverage to overcome medical device security challenges.

The author of the report, Dan Czech, director, market analysis, cybersecurity at KLAS Research, will provide an in-depth overview of this report and medical device security trends during Healthcare Informatics’ Seattle Health IT Summit Oct. 22-23 at the Grand Hyatt Seattle.

The sheer number of connected medical devices that the average healthcare provider is trying to manage speaks to the tremendous challenge IT security leaders face, says Czech. “We spoke to organizations ranging from small to mid-sized clinics all the way to large multi-hospital IDNs (integrated delivery networks), and everyone in between, and the average number of connected medical devices was just under 10,000 medical devices. You think of the enormity of that problem, for an organization to wrap their arms around the problem of managing 10,000 devices,” he says.

What’s more, respondents reported that, among the thousands of connected medical devices that their organizations are managing, about one-third (33 percent) of those devices are “unpatchable.”

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According to the research, 18 percent of provider organizations had medical devices impacted by malware or ransomware in the last 18 months, although few of these incidents resulted in compromised PHI or an audit by the Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS OCR).

Czech notes that there have not been any patient safety events, to date, as a result of a medical device security issue; however, respondents cite patient safety as a top concern. “Let’s take an infusion pump,” he says. “The ability for a bad actor to gain access to that pump and change the dosage of the medication that’s being injected into a human, that is the kind of patient safety issue that we are concerned about.”

Czech continues, “Another way medical device security affects patient safety is if a device is on Windows XP, and WannaCry ransomware hits; if something like that happens, that device is taken out of production. You may have an oncology patient who needs consistent treatment with a medical device, and if you take that out of production, it disrupts patient care and impacts patient safety.”

The report found that most respondents are either neutral about or not confident in their current medical device security strategy, with CISOs and CIOs more likely to report concern. Only 39 percent of respondents said they were very confident or confident that their current strategy protects patient safety and prevents disruptions in care. Thirty-one percent said they were unconfident or very unconfident, and another 30 percent were neutral. About one-fifth of respondents feel that the inherent risks of medical devices—several of which are outside of their control—will prevent them from ever feeling confident.

Those healthcare leaders who expressed confidence most often point to their security processes and policies, including access limitations, network segmentation and regular device monitoring and risk assessment, as the source of their confidence, followed by strong technology. To support these processes and policies, many leverage security technologies, such as access controls, asset tracking, firewalls, and medical device monitoring. Strong executive support (financial and organizational) and cross-department collaboration also drive confidence, as evidenced by the fact that large IDNs, who more commonly have greater financial resources, are more likely to be confident in their strategies, according to the report.

“Respondents who report they are more confident also are those that have a clear line of ownership, not a shared responsibility,” Czech notes.

Those respondents that lacked confidence in their medical device security cited lack of manufacturer support as the top reason. Almost as common are internal issues related to basic—but hard-to-master—security tasks, such as understanding what assets exist in their organization, which have been patched, which are connected to their network, and what systems those devices are talking to. “Asset and inventory visibility is the basic blocking and tackling of medical device security strategy—you can’t protect what you don’t know. They are looking for tools and processes that they can put in place that will help them understand all the devices they have, what’s connected to their networks, and some cases, what software is on the devices” Czech says.

What’s more, 76 percent of provider organizations report that their resources are insufficient or too strained to adequately secure their medical devices.

More Manufacturer Support and Collaboration Needed

Taking a deep dive into the root causes of medical device security struggles, the report finds that interviewed organizations are almost unanimous in citing manufacturer-related factors as a cause of their medical device security issues. Most provider organization see this issue as one of shared responsibility. As one CISO explained in the report, “I think there needs to be a coordinated effort between the manufacturers, the provider sites, and the regulators. I wish there were some other way for us to address this issue, but without that three-way partnership, I just don’t see how things will work out.”

According to Czech, the research findings indicate there is a gap between how long organizations expect to be able to use a device and how long vendors feel they can keep a device up to date and secure. As a result, nearly all interviewed organizations (93 percent) have struggled with out-of-date operating systems or the inability to patch a device throughout its expected life cycle. Currently, many manufacturers do not allow customers to patch devices themselves, or void warranties if they do.

Insufficient security controls, insufficient encryption, and hardcoded passwords are each cited as manufacturer-caused issues by about half of respondents. Adding to provider organizations’ frustration, on average, almost one-third of medical device vendors decline to offer contract provisions favorable to security.

However, the industry is beginning to shift, Czech notes. "Many provider organizations have drawn a line in the sand to say all contracts now and going forward will include standardized security contract language," he says. "This trend has been led by forward-thinking provider organizations and it also has benefited smaller organizations that may not have the legal teams or the cybersecurity teams that bigger organizations have, but they can use that standardized language in their contracts as well."

What’s interesting, Czech notes, is that many respondents spontaneously brought up frustrations regarding the role of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in medical device security, though KLAS did not specifically ask respondents about it. “It gets back to shared responsibility,” he says. “Respondents feel that manufacturers have a stake in this, they have a stake in this, but so does the FDA. Predominantly, the concern that they shared was that their manufacturer would hide behind their perceptions of the FDA regulations."

Almost two-thirds of respondents said manufacturers blame FDA policies, claiming the policies prevent them from making devices more secure. About a third said FDA policies are unclear, giving manufacturers ways to skirt around responsibility and a third said that even when policies are clear, the FDA doesn’t hold manufacturers accountable, according to the report.

Cybersecurity Programs Advancing Forward

According to the research, organizations are increasingly adopting a number of best practices to strengthen medical device security. There are foundational best practices that organization should implement, such as performing risk assessments, ensuring the inclusion of security provisions in their contracts, and ensuring they receive a software bill of materials, Czech notes. Organizations also report using the most common and basic defense techniques such as network segmentation, antivirus software, and vulnerability scanning to ameliorate security risk.

With regards to organizations’ patching strategies, many provider organizations have begun requesting that vendors use contract language that clearly outlines patching responsibilities and timelines.

Providers also are leveraging third-party solutions to improve medical device security, with nearly 75 percent of respondents currently using or planning to use third-party software or services, according to the report. Network access control (NAC) is most often used to segment networks and approve/deny access. To reduce costs and clearly define ownership, other organizations outsource their clinical engineering as well.

Looking at overall cybersecurity trends, the report indicates that organizations are investing more resources, both operationally and financially, in their cybersecurity programs. Almost 70 percent of organizations (68 percent) report having a VP or C-level leader in charge of the security program, and that’s up from only 42 percent in 2017, representing a 26-percent increase.

“Large IDNs are definitely leading the way with CISO leadership, as about 80 percent of their organizations have a CISO in charge, whereas if you look at clinics and community hospitals, those would be hospitals under 200 beds, only less than 10 percent have a CISO in charge,” Czech says. “Many of those smaller organizations have a CIO that wears two hats—an IT hat and a security hat.”

Organizations also reported improvements to security programs compared to a year ago. Twenty-seven percent considered their security programs to be fully functional and 47 percent said they were developed or starting to function in 2018, compared to 16 percent and 41 percent, respectively, in 2017.   

More than half of organizations (57 percent) report that security is an agenda item at board meetings monthly or quarterly. In addition, 83 percent of organizations have increased their security budget in the last two years, and, on average, budgets increased by 85 percent, according to the report.

 


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Aspire Health Suffers Email Breach from Phishing Attack

September 28, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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Aspire Health, a Nashville-based in-home healthcare provider, was hacked Sept. 3 as a result of a phishing attack and “lost” some protected health information (PHI), according to a report by the Tennessean.com.

The hack was disclosed for the first time in federal court records filed on Tuesday, according to the media report. The company suffered a phishing attack on Sept. 3 which gained access to Aspires internal email system. The Tennessean article cites information in the court records that indicates the hacker then forwarded 124 emails to an external email account, including emails that contained “confidential and proprietary information and files” and “protected health information.”

“No other information about the contents of the hacked emails have been made public, so it is unclear how many patients have been exposed and what kind of information was leaked. Aspire has issued a statement saying it has already alerted a ‘small handful’ of patients who ‘may have been impacted’ by the email breach,” the article stated.

According to an email sent to the Tennessean from Cory Brown, a chief compliance officer for Aspire, the company immediately locked the compromised email account after discovering the phishing attack.

Brown added that it is unknown if the stolen emails were actually opened by the hacker.

In a statement to the local News4 station about the cyber attack, Aspire Health said:Aspire takes the security of its data and the personal information of its patients very seriously. Aspire recently learned one of its employees was the victim of an international phishing attack. Aspire’s information security team quickly discovered the attack and immediately took action to lock the employee’s account. Aspire is now working through the legal process to determine if any Aspire information was ultimately accessed by a third-party. Out of an abundance of caution, Aspire has already alerted the small handful of customers who may have been impacted by this event.”

According to the article, Aspire Health was founded in 2013 by former Sen. Bill Frist and current CEO Brad Smith. The company offers house-call physicians offering palliative care for advanced cancer and other serious illnesses.

“In the court records filed on Tuesday, Aspire has said it has tried to identify the hacker but so far has been unable to do so. The phishing attack originated from a website with an IP address in Eastern Europe for which Google is the registrar,” the article stated.

Court records detail Aspire Health's effort to subpoena Google and identify the hacker, according to media reports. The hacking attack was revealed Tuesday as Aspire filed a federal court motion seeking to subpoena Google for more information on the unknown hacker. Aspire attorney James Haltom said in the court motion that Google’s internal records should be able to identify the culprit – currently known only as John Doe 1, the Tennessean reported.

Haltom wrote in court records that Aspire has requested the information from Google “informally,” but Google said Aspire would need to get a subpoena, the article stated.

“The proposed subpoena to Google should provide information showing who has accessed and/or maintains the phishing website and the subscriber of the e-mail account that John Doe 1 used in the phishing attack,” Haltom wrote. “This information will likely allow Aspire to uncover and locate John Doe 1.”

 

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