Security Experts:

Healthcare Industry Challenged by Data Breaches, Compliance

Compliance may be a key focus of the healthcare industry, but that hasn't always translated into secure environments.

In fact, in some cases, compliance efforts appear to be falling short. In a new report from Vormetric focused on healthcare organizations, almost half (48 percent) of the IT decision makers from the U.S. said their organization either failed a compliance audit or experienced a data breach in the last year.

The statistic comes from the 2015 Vormetric Insider Threat report, which is based on a survey of 818 IT decision makers in healthcare organizations around the world, including 102 from the United States. According to Vormetric, 92 percent of the U.S. respondents said their organizations are either somewhat or more vulnerable to insider threats. Forty-nine percent said they felt very or extremely vulnerable.

Some 62 percent of respondents identified privileged users – those who have access to all resources available from systems they manage – as the most dangerous group of insiders. Partners with internal access and contractors ranked second and third, respectively.

The report did not say specifically why so many organizations failed compliance audits. Regardless, the fact that they did indicates organizations are failing at basic data protection, opined Alan Kessler, CEO of Vormetric. 

"Compliance requirements evolve slowly, while threats to data undergo rapid change," said Kessler. "Time and again, organizations that were compliant have been breached in the last few years."

Patient data has become very valuable on the cyber-underground, with hackers buying stolen health credentials for several times the amount of stolen credit cards.

"Healthcare records typically contain enough detail to not only apply for credit cards or loans, but can also be used to generate large sums from fraudulent medical charges, or even to compromise patients’ existing financial accounts," according to the report. "As a result, stolen healthcare records command a large premium versus more mundane stolen information, such as credit card data."

The challenge of protecting data is being complicated by the amount of data in the cloud, the report notes.

"In the ongoing need to balance business efficiency and security, healthcare providers have already deployed sensitive information to cloud environments, and are now realizing that they have created a large additional risk to their organizations," according to the report. "At 40 percent, cloud environments are rated highest as a location for volumes of data at risk, with deployments of sensitive data in these environments as high as 62 percent of organizations for PaaS, 58 percent for SaaS and 55 percent for IaaS."

The principal concerns for cloud environments include the lack of visibility into the physical and IT security stances at the cloud provider, the lack of data protection and encryption services, and a paucity of commitments to compliance requirements and data breach incident responses, the report states.

The survey also found that data protection in healthcare organizations is driven largely by compliance requirements, with more than half (54 percent) citing them as the top reason for protecting sensitive data and 68 percent rating compliance as very or extremely effective at stopping insider threats and data breaches.

"The number one reason healthcare organizations want to secure data is due to compliance," Kessler told SecurityWeek. "These organizations are very focused on government compliance – too focused. Many of them are just looking to meet the basic standards sent in place by the government, but as we mentioned, government compliance standards do not evolve anywhere near as quickly as the techniques used by attackers."

The full report can be found here.

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