Healthcare Sector Vulnerable to Cyber Attack

KUALA LUMPUR, 2 May 2015 (Sat): Fortinet warns that patient data is far more valuable to hackers on the black market than credit card numbers because it tends to contain data that is detailed, rich, and full of information that cybercriminals can use for identity theft and fraud.

“The black market for patient data is up to twenty times more valuable than that for credit card data often stolen in retail breaches. More importantly, it takes far longer – can be up to a year or more – for patients to realize their information has been compromised,” said Michelle Ong, Fortinet’s Country Manager for Malaysia. “When a credit card is stolen, algorithms in the financial industry pick up unusual activity very quickly and systems often automatically provide protection. These same protections simply don’t yet exist in healthcare.”

According to Fortinet cybersecurity experts, there are three primary vectors of a healthcare cyberattack:

Traditional cyberattacks

These are the types of attacks that happen to all institutions, even if some are more likely to make headlines than others. Malware, phishing schemes, trojans, ransomware – they’re all out there, but the healthcare industry is particularly vulnerable because it lacks the built-in protections and underlying security mindset of other industries. These types of malicious software, whether deployed through targeted attacks, compromised websites, spam, infected mobile devices, or otherwise, can not only expose sensitive data but create distracting and expensive IT headaches. A 2012 Ponemon Institute study found that data breaches cost the average healthcare organization roughly US$2.4 million over the previous two-year period.

Connected medical devices

Today, everything from heart monitors to IV pumps can be networked, automatically interfacing with EHR systems and providing real-time alerts to healthcare providers. From the perspectives of patient care and operational efficiency, this is a good thing. From a security perspective, it’s a potential nightmare.

Most of these devices, as well as MRI machines, CT scanners and countless other diagnostic machines were never designed with security in mind. Many diagnostic systems use off-the-shelf operating systems like Microsoft Windows while other devices use purpose-built software designed to collect data – not keep it safe. Too many of these devices are eminently hackable and, once compromised, can provide hackers with unfettered access to the clinical data systems within which they interface.

And it isn’t just patient data that’s vulnerable through connected devices. Cyberterrorists could potentially manipulate machines to intentionally harm patients or shut down critical systems in hospitals.

Personal and home health devices

Device proliferation isn’t just occurring in hospitals. An increasing numbers of home health devices, mobile apps, wearables, and more are collecting and transmitting personal health information. Not only do these devices and apps potentially expose patient data (or at least fail to adequately protect it), but they also often interface directly with EHR and clinical data systems. When everything from a home glucose monitor to an iPhone app can become part of the attack surface, it should become clear just how badly exposed healthcare institutions are. As with clinical devices, most of these new patient care modalities are designed for convenience and innovative functionality rather than security.

“The time to address healthcare security is not when medical record breaches start making headlines. The healthcare industry as a whole needs to be proactive and begin deploying systems with security baked in, protected at both the network and application levels,” said Ong. “The stakes are simply too high to wait.” The healthcare industry must be able to proactively secure patient data, devices and systems that make up the foundational technology infrastructure of patient care.

Author: VSDaily Editor

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