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Attacks/Breaches

7/12/2016
03:50 PM
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Healthcare Hacks Face Critical Condition

It's not just SSNs and credit cards -- detailed patient records and full EHR databases are targeted by cybercriminals today.

Cybercriminals have moved well beyond the theft of social security numbers (SSNs) and credit card data when it comes to healthcare organizations: They're now employing more complex schemes to pick up detailed health records, as one new report out this week explains.

According to a new study by researchers at InfoArmor of four attacks against US-based healthcare organizations, attackers in a theft campaign this spring were able to steal at least 600,000 detailed patient records and place 3 terabytes of associated data on the Dark Web's black market. These included MRI and X-ray images, patient-specific biometrics, and doctor's treatment notes. In initial reports of the breaches that came to light last month, the threat actors themselves claimed they had access to millions of records, as well as persistent unauthorized access to medical organizations' systems for ransomware distribution.

Initial reports show at least part of the compromise was achieved through a zero-day attack against the remote desktop protocol (RDP), and that one of the databases was being shopped around for nearly $500,000.

According to InfoArmor Chief Intelligence Officer Andrew Komarov, who led research into this campaign and wrote the brief released this week, attackers like these are building momentum with their attacks. They are broadly targeting the healthcare IT infrastructure, digging not just into weakly defended traditional networks, but also connected medical devices, mobile computing devices used by medal staff and, most profitably, electronic health records (EHR) systems. In this instance, the bad actors were able to gain access to victims' centralized EHR records through a compromised host for EHR software SRSsoft.

"In some cases, these systems stored all of the data in local files or in the Microsoft Access desktop databases without any special user access segregation, which created a serious risk of data theft once the network host was compromised," Komarov says, noting that this was how one healthcare institution in Montana was hit.

According to a report out from the Brookings Institution in May, 23% of all reported data breaches occur at healthcare organizations, and IBM reported that last year the rate of attacks struck healthcare more than any other industry.

Further, the Ponemon Institute reported that almost 90% of healthcare organizations have been hit by a breach in the past two years, costing the industry $6.2 billion.

The heat on healthcare has cranked up this year as attackers are learning new, nefarious ways of monetizing the industry's poor security posture, including through profitable cyber-extortion attacks. The first half of this year has seen a wave of successful ransomware bids against healthcare organizations and hospitals, nabbing the bad guys as much as $17,000 per system hostage. 

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Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.  View Full Bio

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