Health Care Services Remain Inviting Cyber-Attack Targets: Report

With health care data fetching significant profits both in underground data sales and ransomware, the industry is an inviting target, but network scans indicate organizations remain vulnerable.

The health care industry continues to be a major target of attacks, with stolen electronic health records generating lucrative profits for data thieves and ransomware attacks often leaving affected hospitals no recourse but to pay, according to two reports released in the past week. As part of its focus on cyber-crime’s impact on specific countries and industries, security firm Trend Micro collected data on the prices fetched by electronic health records in underground markets, such as TheRealDeal, AlphaBay, Valhalla, Apple Market, Python Market, Dream Market and Silk Road.

Single medical insurance cards can be ordered online for $1 each, while medical records that include a complete profile of the patient—including Social Security numbers, medical treatments, date of birth and insurance information—can fetch up to $5 per records.

Another report by Fortinet underscored the impact of ransomware, but Ed Cabrera, chief cyber-security officer of Trend Micro, said that most breaches are focused on grabbing the data.

“We know that EHRs are being sold in the criminal underground,” he told eWEEK. “In spite of this year being the year of online extortion, criminal breaches are still happening.”

The overall picture is hard to see, but a variety of vendor-supplied data points exist. Health care, for example, only accounts for 115 confirmed breaches out of 2,260 documented incidents in the 2015 dataset published as part of the 2016 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report.

Trend Micro documented more than 14 million records lost in breaches attributed to external cyber-criminal actions in 2016, down from a massive 113 million records lost in 2015.

The health care industry is also a significant target of ransomware. For example, downloaders that install ransomware on infected systems account for four of the top five malware variants, according to health care attack data released on Feb. 21 by network-security firm Fortinet.

Ransomware downloaders accounted for more than 175,000 infection attempts in the fourth quarter of 2016, according to the firm, which included data from 454 companies in its report.

Almost all the ransomware—91 percent—consisted of a variant of the infamous CryptoWall ransomware program, according to Fortinet.

“From a malware perspective, the majority of infections are ransomware-based due to the higher probability of collecting ransom when sensitive health care data is encrypted,” the company said in the analysis.

The industry continues to remain vulnerable to opportunistic attacks. Trend Micro used data from the port-scanning database Shodan to conclude that more than 101,000 potential attack vectors exist at hospitals worldwide. More than 88 percent of those vectors are linked to health care organizations in Canada and the United States, the company stated in its report.

“Health care is not alone in this,” Cabrera said. “You have to be resilient, understand the threats you face and find the vulnerabilities that you have. If you can’t see it, you can’t protect it.”

Fortinet also touted the benefits of well-integrated security.

“All of [these threats] can be mitigated when a multi-layered security approach is properly planned and executed,” the company stated.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...