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Report: 2015 Was the Year of the Healthcare Security Breach

December 28, 2015
by Heather Landi
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Five of the eight largest healthcare security breaches over the past five years, with almost 100 million records compromised, happened during the first six months of 2015, notes IBM Security in a report, also calling 2015 the year of the healthcare security breach.

According to data compiled by IBM X-Force Interactive Security Incidents, healthcare ranks as the leading sector for security incidents across all industries in the first 10 months of this year, with 34 percent of records compromised.

"Interestingly, healthcare has hung on to its No. 1 ranking even though the second half of 2015 has yet to see the same level of large-scale breaches affecting the healthcare industry as seen in the first half," IBM researchers wrote.

Compared to the almost 100 million records compromisd in 2015, between January 2011 and December 2014, the healthcare industry accounted for only 0.63 percent of total records compromised.

"That’s a significant climb," the report authors state. "The five very large security breaches mentioned earlier contributed significantly to this rise in ranking. Protected health information (PHI) data fields from those breaches included emails, social security numbers, banking and employment information and medical records."

IBM X-Force security researchers identified significant shifts in criminal behavior in recent years as the number of retail records compromised in 2015 dropped 92 percent from 2014 and that industry is experiencing a four-year low with only 5.7 million compromised records reported.

The IBM Managed Security Services Threat Research group highlighted its latest data about healthcare security breaches, and how the industry is now outpacing other sectors such as retail, in its IBM X-Force Research report.  In the report, IBM states that the healthcare industry has become a popular target due to the high resale value of protected health information, and even electronic health records (EHRs), which can contain a patient’s email, social security number and banking and employment information as well as health and medical data.

“As the Ponemon Institute’s 2015 Cost of Data Breach Study found, a healthcare record lost or stolen in a breach could cost the victim organization as much as $363, fully 136 percent higher than the global average cost of a data breach per lost or stolen record,” the report authors state.

Also, healthcare data does not have an expiration date and the healthcare industry is still adapting to the security landscape.

In almost half of the healthcare breaches sampled, the victim organization has not to date disclosed exactly what type of attack they sustained, the report states. After that, “physical” ranks as the most prevalent attack type, followed by malware, phishing, misconfigured networks and SQL injection.

The IBM report also offered a number of recommendations for healthcare organizations to safeguard healthcare data and strengthen security, such as employing a full-time Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) to steer the organization’s overall security strategy and budget.

The report also notes that the Internet of Things (IoT) can open more doors for attack and medical devices in particular can have a number of vulnerabilities. The report authors also state that it’s essential to conduct security updates on devices and also recommended healthcare organizations test and evaluate devices before deploying them, restrict unauthorized access to networked devices and ensure that firewalls are up to date and perform periodic configuration reviews.

In addition, security staff should monitor network activity for unauthorized use, perform audits of the devices and perform penetration testing of medical equipment, including implantable medical devices.

The report authors also emphasize the importance of encryption, including encrypting passwords.

“Whenever possible, you should encrypt patient information, even at rest and within the EHR, segregate patient data from other data and use different subsets, follow the principle of least privilege allowing data access only to users who require it to do their jobs and implement devices in depth with multiple layers of security,” the report authors state.

And, healthcare organizations should conduct a security framework and risk assessment and then develop an incident response plan, according to the report.

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