Healthcare vulnerability in a concatenation of data breaches

Concatenation is one of those lovely English words that express far more than its simpler synonyms: sequence, series or chain of events. Perhaps we have experienced that concatenation of data breaches which connect and demonstrate a critical mass that motivate healthcare organizations, including insurers, to ensure that data security and privacy gets primacy in HIT. Our Readers know we’ve been on the case since 2010; we’ve been noting Ponemon Institute and ID Experts studies since then.

While simple, straightforward theft can be the cause of smaller breaches and not part of a Big Hack, it’s not as Three Stooges or Benny Hill-esque as perhaps the JAMA study earlier this year made it out to be, especially if it’s your personal record, or your patient’s, which is breached, identity and financials damaged. (See this Security Intelligence article on a minor health breach and how it affected an individual who happens to be in IBM’s security arm.)

Just in the past few weeks, in the US we have experienced the following major and minor breaches:

  • CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield in Maryland–an insurer, not a hospital or practice–had a Big Hack of 1.1 million health records, with names, birth dates, email addresses and insurance identification numbers (but not SSI or credit card numbers) revealed.
  • Beacon Health Systems (Indiana) had a phishing attack into employee email boxes dating back to 2013. This was a Medium Hack that affected about 220,000 patients. Data taken included SSI and driver’s license. Health Data Management today.
  • Advantage Dental in Redmond, Washington had a 152,000 patient hack during three days in February.
  • Also in February, a New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation employee transferred patient files to her personal and new work email. 90,000 patients may have compromised data as a result. Becker’s

More breaches are listed today in iHealthBeat and the ever-growing list on Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Ponemon Institute’s 2015 Cost of a Data Breach Study: Global Analysis, with IBM, was published last week. It’s not solely about healthcare, but Ponemon’s model judges that in organizations, the probability of a data breach can be based on two factors: how many records were lost or stolen and the company’s industry. The cost of data breaches due to malicious or criminal attacks now averages $174 per record, up $15 from last year. The study is also global over 11 countries including the UK, Germany, Australia, France, Brazil, Japan, Italy, India and Canada.

Healthcare is particularly vulnerable; as the ID Experts group within Ponemon states: “Cyber criminals recognize two critical facts about the healthcare industry: 1) healthcare organizations manage a treasure trove of financially lucrative personal information and 2) they do not have the resources, processes, and technologies to prevent and detect attacks and adequately protect healthcare data.”

Ponemon’s 2015 study is available on a free download that does ask you to part with some personal information, but no SSI or DOB. If they do…we’ll just send in The Hulkster. click to enlarge

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