When you think of a hacker frantically tapping away in a dark room, who do you think he’s targeting? Banks? The government? Try healthcare information. 2018 saw three times as many healthcare-related cyberattacks as the year prior, and 2019 is holding onto that momentum.
Healthcare breaches are much larger in scope than we imagine. While you might think this affects a few dozen people at most, these hacks end up gathering information on thousands — sometimes millions — of patients at a time. One of the largest beaches this year (AMCA), exposed over 20 million patients. While these numbers can be mind-boggling, they do bring some important questions to mind.
Why Do Hackers Target Healthcare Information?
What possible reason could hackers have to want to know about that time you got ringworm at the gym or that you occasionally get heartburn? Healthcare records aren't targeted for that information, but are actually prized for “full information”. Full information includes names, addresses, birthdates, and Social Security numbers. If someone steals your credit card information, you can have the card canceled and useless within a few minutes. Full information, on the other hand, includes personal information that rarely or never changes.
While we think about credit card information sold on the Dark Web, medical information is even more valuable. Just how valuable? According to current estimates, your medical record can fetch 10 to 60 times that of your credit card information! Once it’s in the wrong hands, that information can be devastating to your credit into the foreseeable future.
How Is Healthcare Information So Easily Breached?
Unfortunately, most healthcare organizations and those that work with them don't take the hacking threat seriously. Here are some of the biggest factors contributing to this epidemic.
The healthcare industry is notorious for being slow to upgrade their computer systems. One reason is that many healthcare offices are small and have an "if it ain’t broke, don't fix it" mentality. Also, HIPAA requirements are quite strict so finding new software can be a daunting task. There’s even a debate about whether or not newer operating systems are HIPAA compliant. Older, out-of-date software and systems are low hanging fruit for cybercriminals.
No Security Department
Think of your primary care physician’s office. You may be familiar with your doctor, the nurses, and the billing people, but when was the last time you saw an IT department? Many smaller offices don’t have the resources or the wherewithal to have something like this formally set up. They depend on the general staff —who are often overworked as it is — to take care of the day-to-day technical issues. Even if the entire staff is competent in this area, this would be a major undertaking.
You might remember having to wait while people faxed/mailed your medical records from one place to another if you changed doctors or had to have treatment at a different location. Now, it takes a few minutes while things electronically transfer. We expect convenience, but it comes at a cost. Many medical facilities and hospitals constantly send information back and forth throughout the day. The more points of transfer in a system, the more opportunities there are for someone to find an entry point.
Along with being interconnected, healthcare is more and more dependent on technology. In many areas, modern healthcare facilities look more like a futuristic spaceship than a hospital! Remember that every piece of technology that uses medical information is a potential target for hackers. While the main servers might be heavily protected, who makes sure that the third desktop at the nurse’s station on the second floor has its security updated? What about the rolling computer used for billing or the tablet used by one of the surgeons? Any of these devices open the door for someone to gain access to all of the patients in the system.
Out of sight, out of mind
Unfortunately, this is most likely the main cause of hacks in the healthcare system. Medical professionals are well aware of the idea of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Unfortunately, they tend to ignore this when it comes to their IT, waiting until a disaster to force necessary changes.
If you are in the healthcare industry or work with healthcare information (i.e. lawyers, billing departments, accountants), don’t wait before it’s too late to turn a new leaf. If you frequent doctor's offices, make sure they know the importance of cybersecurity. The last thing you want is to be on the news as the latest victim.