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Criminal Attacks on Healthcare Organizations Increase 100%

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cybersecurity in healthcareI’ve posted on data security and breaches for the last few years and know that many healthcare providers have struggled to make sense of the warnings.

cybersecurity in healthcareI’ve posted on data security and breaches for the last few years and know that many healthcare providers have struggled to make sense of the warnings.  The latest warnings come from a report that hightlights new security threats to patient health information:

  • unproven security in the health insurance marketplaces, created as a result of the Affordable Care Act
  • criminal attacks
  • employee negligence
  • unsecured mobile devices (smartphones, laptops, and tablets)
  • third parties—causing organizations to scramble

The reportFourth Annual Benchmark Study on Patient Privacy and Data Securityalso provides insight into how healthcare organizations and handling data breaches and dealing with compliance.

Cyber Thieves are Following the Money

Patient records are vulnerable to both insider and outsider threats because of the value of the information to criminals. These records contain personally identifiable information (PII) and protected health information (PHI). When combined, this information represents highly sensitive “regulated data,” which is tightly controlled by federal laws, including HIPAA and GLBA, as well as numerous state breach notification laws.

Employee negligence, such as a lost laptop, continues to be at the root of most data breaches in this study. However, there is also an uptick in criminal attacks on hospitals, which have increased a staggering 100% since the first study four years ago. The combination of insider-outsider threats presents a multi-level challenge, and healthcare organizations are lacking the resources to address this reality.

 Key Findings of the Research

  • Data breaches have declined slightly, though remain high.

Data breaches now cost healthcare organizations $5.6 billion annually, slightly lower than past years. Ninety percent of respondents had at least one data breach over the past two years, while 38 percent have had more than five data breaches in the same time period. While the total number of data breaches in healthcare has declined slightly—indicating that healthcare organizations are making some progress—the threats to patient data remain high. Many organizations remain overwhelmed and struggle with incident management and compliance with the myriad of regulations.

  •  Affordable Care Act increases risks to millions of patients and their information.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents believe the Affordable Care Act has increased or significantly increased the risk to millions of patients, because of inadequate security. The concerns include insecure exchanges between healthcare providers and government (75 percent), insecure databases (65 percent), and insecure websites for patient registration (63 percent). One-third of organizations surveyed say they do not plan to become a member of a Health Information Exchange (HIE); 72 percent are not confident or only somewhat confident in the security and privacy of patient data shared on HIEs. 

  • Negligent employees and unsecured devices in the workplace remain a big security threat.

Seventy-five percent of organizations cite employee negligence as their biggest security worry, as they increase exposure to sensitive data by the growing use of their personal unsecured devices (smartphones, laptops and tablets). Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is not a new phenomenon but is a new risk, as personal devices have become harder to manage, control, and secure. In fact, 88 percent of organizations permit employees and medical staff to use their own mobile devices to connect to their organization’s networks or enterprise systems such as email, with access to patient information. Similar to last year’s study, more than half of organizations are not confident that the personally owned mobile devices are secure. Yet, 38 percent of organizations don’t take steps to ensure these devices are secure or prevent them from accessing sensitive information. 

  • Healthcare organizations don’t trust their third parties (Business Associates) with sensitive patient information.

“Business Associates” are third-party companies that work with healthcare organizations. They have access to patient information and are still struggling to comply with the HIPAA Final Rule, a federal law intended to safeguard sensitive information. Seventy-three percent of organizations are not confident or only slightly confident that their third parties are able to detect a security incident, perform an incident risk assessment and notify them in the event of a data breach. Only 30 percent of organizations are confident that their business associates are appropriately safeguarding patient information as required by the federal HIPAA Final Rule. According to those surveyed, the Business Associates that present the greatest risks to patient information are IT service providers, claims processors, and benefits management. 

Patching Holes is Overwhelming for Organizations

While there has bee progress towards complying with federal privacy and security guidelines and better safeguarding patient information, the threats and risks are shifting and this requires healthcare organizations to be in a constant state of catch up.  Think of it as a bucket filled with water, with holes in it. The water keeps spurting out, and every time you patch one hole, a new hole forms. The process of patching old and new holes is overwhelming, and this new data validates that issue.

Still have questions?

If you are interested in more information, consider participating in a free webinar, ACA Impacts on Patient Data Security—with Dr. Larry Ponemon, Ponemon Institute, and Rick Kam, CIPP/US, ID Experts— on Tuesday, April 8, 2014, at 11:00 a.m./2:00 p.m. ET. To register, visit

(cybersecurity and healthcare organizations / shutterstock)

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