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Protenus February Breach Report: Number of Incidents Remain Steady

March 21, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The number of healthcare data breach incidents continues to remain steady, and in February’s Breach Barometer report from Protenus, it was revealed that last month, a ransomware attack was responsible for the largest single incident, while an insider-error incident that continued for over four years before it was detected also was highlighted.

In total, Protenus, a cybersecurity software company that issues a Breach Barometer report each month, found 39 health data breaches (compared to 37 in January) reported to HHS (Department of Health & Human Services) or disclosed to the media in February 2018. The company has data for 28 of those incidents, which affected 348,889 patient records (compared to 473, 807 in January).

The single largest breach in February involved a ransomware attack on a New York-based healthcare organization that affected 135,000 patient records. According to the report, the hackers gained access to patient data that included names, dates of birth, addresses, dates of service, diagnosis codes, procedure codes, insurance information, and in some cases, Medicare information including Social Security numbers. An investigation did not find any evidence that the attackers copied the records, but it was unable to definitively verify this. 

What’s more, there were 16 incidents in February (41 percent of total breach incidents) that were the result of insiders. Protenus has data for 13 of those incidents, which affected 177,247 patient records (51 percent of all breach patient records). Notably, 94 percent of insider-related incidents (15 incidents) were the result of insider-error. The data for 12 of of these incidents affect 179,967 patient records, according to the report.

Also of note, there was only a single instance of insider-wrongdoing this month, which affected 280 records, but it was a case in which a pediatrician provided a pharmaceutical company the identifiable health information for 280 pediatric patients so the company could market a costly new drug to these targeted patients.

As Protenus summarized in their report, the pediatrician eventually gave the pharmaceutical company his login credentials so the sales representatives could access the EMR (electronic medical record) and look for more potential customers. “While this type of breach can be one of the most difficult to detect due to credential sharing, there is AI-powered technology available to allow healthcare organizations to promptly detect abnormal user behavior and thwart these bad actors from taking advantage of patient vulnerabilities,” the report stated.

Meanwhile, there were 13 incidents (33 percent of total affecting 160,381 patient records. While hacking incidents affected 46 percent of the total number of breached records this past month, the numbers could be higher as there were five incidents in which data was unavailable. Ransomware or malware was specifically mentioned in four incidents, which affected 144,925 records, and phishing was specifically mentioned in two incidents, which affected 6,793 records.

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