SecureWorks: Hacker Attacks Targeting Healthcare Organizations Doubled In Q4 2009

Company also provides security guidance to healthcare organizations

January 26, 2010

6 Min Read


ATLANTA, GA - January 26, 2010 - SecureWorks, Inc., a leading global provider of information security services protecting 2,700 clients worldwide, reported today that attempted hacker attacks launched at its healthcare clients doubled in the fourth quarter of 2009. Attempted attacks increased from an average of 6,500 per healthcare client per day in the first nine months of 2009 to an average of 13,400 per client per day in the last three months of 2009. Attempted attacks against other types of organizations, protected by SecureWorks, did not increase in the fourth quarter.

"From October through December of 2009, we blocked hundreds of SQL Injection and Butterfly/Mariposa Bot malware attacks launched at our healthcare clients. These attempted attacks were responsible for the increase in our attack statistics," said Hunter King, security researcher with SecureWorks' Counter Threat Unit SM (CTU).

In the Fall of 2009, SecureWorks and the security community began tracking a new wave of attacks involving the latest version of the Butterfly/Mariposa Bot malware, according to King. If a computer is infected with the Butterfly malware, it can be used to steal data stored by the victim's browser (including passwords), launch Distributed Denial of Service attacks, spread via USB devices or peer to peer, and download additional malware onto the infected computer.

SQL Injection attacks target vulnerabilities in organizations' web applications. "We also saw a resurgence of SQL Injection attacks beginning in October," continued King. "They were being launched at legitimate websites so as to spread the Gumblar Trojan. Although SQL Injection is a well known attack technique, we continue to read news reports where it has been used successfully by cyber criminals to steal sensitive data," said King. One of the most recent cases reported involved American citizen Albert Gonzalez who was charged, along with two unnamed Russians, with the theft of 130 million credit card numbers using SQL Injection.

Factors Contributing to Healthcare Attacks

Valuable Data Stores " Healthcare organizations often store valuable data such as a patient's Social Security number, insurance and/or financial account data, birth date, name, billing address, and phone, making them a desirable target to cyber criminals.

Large Attack Landscape " Because of the nature of their business, healthcare organizations have large attack surfaces. Healthcare entities have to provide access to many external networks and web applications so as to stay connected with their patients, employees, insurers and business partners. This increases their risk to cyber attacks.

"In order for healthcare organizations to effectively protect their sensitive patient data, they should consider employing a defense-in-depth strategy. This approach involves implementing multiple layers of protection to shield the organization from current and emerging threats," said Jon Ramsey, CTO for SecureWorks.

SecureWorks has outlined a set of information security guidelines to assist the healthcare industry in protecting their patient data from cyber attacks and other data breaches. Adopting these security measures will also assist organizations in demonstrating their adherence to the HIPAA regulations and the requirements outlined in the new Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.

The HITECH Act has extended the HIPAA regulations to apply not only to healthcare providers, insurers and healthcare clearinghouses, but also to business associates that are handling personal information about patient health, as well as other protected information, including name, social security number, address and insurance account numbers. These associates must adhere to the Security Safeguards Rules outlined by HIPAA. The HITECH Act has also added a data-breach notification requirement and increased penalties for violation of the HIPAA rules.

SecureWorks' Recommended Information Security Guidelines for the Healthcare Industry

Security Risk Assessments " Performing regular security risk assessments will give your organization a much better understanding of the actual risks posed to your Protected Health Information (PHI) and Personally Identifiable Information (PII). This process will also look at the controls you have in place compared with regulatory requirements, and help you determine if there are any gaps. It will also give you an opportunity to compare your security posture with others in the industry. Recommendations made as a part of this process can be integrated into your overall information security program, keeping your security safeguards current, as well as helping your organization show diligence and a commitment to compliance.

Intrusion Prevention and Detection Services (IPS/IDS) " The implementation of IDS and IPS enables you to detect and block attempts by cyber criminals to access data on your servers and your network. Proactive alerting mechanisms and monitoring services can notify you of attempted cyber attacks and allow you to respond in real-time as a component of your Information Security Program. It is much less costly, both from a monetary and reputational perspective, to prevent a cyber breach then to be faced with notifying affected individuals and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as required by the HITECH Act.

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) " A DLP solution can help monitor your network traffic for possible leakage of PII such as social security numbers and PHI, such as Health Level 7 (HL7) codes (medical standards/procedures codes), etc.

Log Monitoring " Log Monitoring centralizes and correlates audit logs from your applications and systems to allow you to identify improper access to sensitive patient data from internal or external sources. Proactive monitoring or regular reviews of logs is a key step in ensuring that your patient data is secure, as well as in meeting the short time-window required by the HITECH Act for notification of a breach.

Web Application Security Testing and Web Application Firewalls " Web applications are becoming more common in healthcare environments. Due to their increasing role in the IT business environment and prevalence of security flaws, web applications are a frequent target of Internet hackers. Healthcare organizations and business associates should perform web application security testing regularly and when significant changes are made to the web applications in order to protect against current security threats. Also, the implementation of a web application firewall can help protect against emerging attacks being launched from cyber criminals.

Encryption " Implementing strong encryption policies and technologies on mobile devices, laptops, portable storage and backup tapes is key to reducing your risks with regards to improper data disclosure.

SecureWorks currently protects 82 healthcare clients in the US. Attack statistics provided are from a 12-month study of 38 clients using SecureWorks' Managed Intrusion Detection and Prevention service (IDS/IPS) at the edge of their network, giving SecureWorks visibility into all attempted network attacks while blocking them. In addition to healthcare organizations, SecureWorks protects banks, utilities, retailers, technology providers and government organizations. For more information on IT security solutions for healthcare organizations, please visit

SecureWorks will host a webcast on Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 3:00 p.m. EST titled, "New HIPAA and HITECH Rules: Experts discuss the impact on healthcare firms and business associates." For more information, please visit

About SecureWorks

SecureWorks is a market leading provider of world-class information security services with over 2,700 clients worldwide spanning North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific Rim. Organizations of all sizes, including more than ten percent of the Fortune 500, rely on SecureWorks to protect their assets, improve compliance and reduce costs. The combination of strong client service, award-winning security technology and experienced security professionals makes SecureWorks the premier provider of information security services for any organization. Positioned in the Leader's Quadrant of Gartner's Magic Quadrant for MSSPs, SecureWorks has also won SC Magazine's "Best Managed Security Service" award for 2006, 2007, 2008 & 2009.

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