While you might expect that the number of mega-breaches in 2017 would surpass all previous years, the numbers may take you by surprise. In fact, 2017 saw a drop in the number of individuals affected by healthcare breaches. An article on Bank Info Security provides an analysis on 2017’s health data breaches and the outlook for data breaches in 2018.
A breakdown of health data breaches over the last three years:
- As of December 21st, 335 health data breaches were reported, impacting more than 4.9 million individuals
- 327 health data breaches were listed on the “wall of shame”, affecting 16.6 million individuals
- 269 health data breaches were reported, impacting nearly 113.3 million individuals
- The Anthem breach alone affected 79 million individuals
- As of December 21st, 2,158 breaches affecting nearly 176.5 million individuals have been posted to the federal tally initiated in 2009
What’s causing the decrease in mega-breaches?
With cybercrime becoming more lucrative, you may have expected health data breaches to affect more individuals than ever before, however those numbers have drastically decreased. What is causing the decrease in successful mega-breaches? According to Keith Fricke, principal consultant at tw-Security, there could be more than one explanation.
Fricke explains that organizations holding large volumes of protected health information may have increased their security measures following the massive breaches in 2015, resulting in less vulnerabilities for cybercriminals to exploit. As for his second theory, Fricke believes some of 2017’s data breaches have yet to be discovered.
Some metrics show that the average time between a hacker’s first unauthorized access and when they are discovered is around 200 days, which is about 6.5 months.”
President of the security and consulting firm The Marblehead Group, Kate Borten believes some organizations have started to realize they have a big target on their back for cybercriminals, especially insurers holding large amounts of data. The realization that these organizations are a perfect target for cybercriminals may be what is leading them to focus more efforts on their security. According to Borten, Health plans typically have a larger security budget due to their large volume of plan member data, making it a bit easier to tighten up their security measures.
Mac McMillan, CEO of consulting firm CynergisTek believes several factors may account for the decline in breach sizes.
According to McMillan, a few factors may have led to the decline in breach sizes. Organizations may have started taking attacks on other organizations as a wake-up call. The decline in the demand for records along with their associated price on the dark web may also be contributing factors in breach size decline.
Kirk Nahra, privacy attorney of the Wiley Rein law firm believes we may be putting too much of an emphasis on the size of the breach, when in fact, we learn more about the true identifiable harms from smaller breaches.
Expectations for 2018
In 2017, 70 percent of all individuals affected by health data breaches came as a result of hacking. Some experts believe the hacker trend is likely to continue into 2018, with Borten suggesting external cyberattacks including phishing and ransomware will triumph.
McMillan also predicts hacking will continue to grow, specifically focusing on disruption.
…Ransomware will continue to be a frequent attack as long as organizations continue to pay. Hackers will further exploit the internet of things to their advantage.”
Although large-scale attacks are often the biggest concern, Nahra argues that smaller breaches are just as troublesome.
Bigger isn’t always worse,” he adds. “There are lot of smaller breaches that have direct personal impact for specific people and where the idea of a hacker attack may not be relevant.”
Insider threats: A cause for concern
While hacking poses a major threat to organizations, Borten reminds employers that insider threats should also be of concern.
Insiders will always pose a bigger threat in healthcare provider organizations than in other industries due to the wide range of nonemployees who are routinely granted electronic access,” she says. “These include students and other trainees, visiting staff, volunteers, and other providers such as community practices. But these individuals are harder to control than employees receiving paychecks.”
Nahra also emphasize the need for companies to pay close attention to what access their employees have been granted while McMillan advises organizations to “monitor, analyze, monitor.”
It is critical that organizations reinforce their practices to improve their security and thus reduce the risk of hacking and insider threats. Fricke explains the need for recurring workforce training to help reduce the risk of accidental incidents.
Breaches caused by insiders with intent can be reduced or avoided with improved monitoring and alerting. These days, it is more practical to outsource that monitoring to a third party with resources to watch activity around the clock.”
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