Security Experts:

Hospitals Increasingly Targets of Malicious Activity: Websense

When Community Health Systems revealed it had been breached, it joined a growing list of healthcare organizations and hospitals that have been hit by attackers.

According to Websense, there has been a significant global spike in malicious activity attempted against hospitals beginning in October 2013. August 2014 has seen a 600 percent increase in such activity compared to the average amount prior to October, according to the firm.

"Healthcare records hold a treasure trove of data that is valuable to an attacker directly, or for resale on the cyber black-market," said Bob Hansmann, director of product marketing at Websense. "Few records are so rich in valuable PII [personally-identifiable information] that can be used in a multitude of different follow-up attacks and fraud.  Health records not only contain vital information on the identity of an individual…but also [are] often linked to bank, credit card, insurance and other financial information."

"Personal information can lead an attacker to commit identity fraud, while the financial information can lead to financial exploitation from a criminal," he continued. "This is a primary driver for attacks against the industry and why we are seeing an increase in attacks against healthcare targets."

In the case of Community Health Systems, which operates more than 200 hospitals nationwide, the attack is believed to be the work of hackers from China. In its 8-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said it had been breached in April and then again in June by attackers using "highly sophisticated malware and technology."  

"The attacker was able to bypass the company’s security measures and successfully copy and transfer certain data outside the company," according to the SEC filing. "Since first learning of this attack, the company has worked closely with federal law enforcement authorities in connection with their investigation and possible prosecution of those determined to be responsible for this attack."

The company also hired Mandiant to investigate the incident.

Philip Lieberman, president of Lieberman Software, said in a statement that many healthcare providers have not invested heavily in IT security.

"There is no incentive for them to invest, nor is there any material consequence of their failure to protect their infrastructure," opined Lieberman, who added that HIPAA has done little to nothing to protect patients in the real world in IT or other circumstances. "Some health providers with excellent reputations for quality and caring do make a substantial effort in IT security, but the sad fact is that one can probably make a strong correlation between the quality of health care of a hospital and their investments in IT security."

"Hospitals are arguably one of the hardest network environments to secure; their primary focus is on protecting and improving human life, and this often eclipses all other priorities," said Trey Ford, global security strategist at Rapid7, in a statement. "For cyber security professionals, healthcare environments are riddled with challenges and are perhaps one of the most difficult industries to protect."

"For example, you have a great deal of personally identifiable information (PII) that achieves high values on the black market; healthcare practitioners often sharing workstations and passwords, coming and going on shifts or in emergencies; and medical devices and systems that are highly regulated and certified for set configurations, so they cannot easily be patched," he said. "For these reasons, standard industry practices like network segmentation and scanning are often prohibited."

view counter