Healthcare Security in Critical Condition

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Healthcare Security in Critical Condition

Are healthcare organizations more vulnerable to data breaches than other industries?

Healthcare organizations (69 percent) and their third-party business associate (BA) partners (63 percent) certainly seem to feel they have a target on their backs, according to Ponemon’s Sixth Annual Benchmark Study on Privacy & Security of Healthcare Data.  However, knowledge hasn’t necessarily led to preventative action in many healthcare firms or the BAs that support them. Data breaches in healthcare continue to put patient data at risk and are becoming increasingly costly and frequent. According to Ponemon estimates, data breaches could have already costed the healthcare industry $6.2 billion.

Patients at risk for financial identity theft

While many of the breaches reported by survey respondents were small, containing fewer than 500 records, nearly 90 percent of healthcare organizations taking part in the study reported they were victim to a data breach over the past two years, and 45 percent had more than five data breaches during that same period. Ponemon estimates that the average cost of a data breach for healthcare organizations over the past two years was more than $2.2 million, while the costs to BAs was more than $1 million. The top stolen files: medical files, billing and insurance records, and payment details, putting patients not only at risk for exposing personal details, but also for financial identity theft.

Employee negligence, cause for concern

What’s evident from the data is that employee negligence and mishandling of sensitive patient data is still a huge cause for concern; according to Verizon’s Data Breach Digest, 23 percent of data beaches reported in healthcare are from inside privilege and misuses. In the Ponemon report, 69 percent of health organization respondents cited “negligent or careless employees” as the type of security incident that worries them the most, compared with 45 percent for cyber attackers and 30 percent for insecure mobile devices.

At BAs, negligent or careless employees was cited by 53 percent of respondents as their most feared security incident. Healthcare organizations may be overly worried, as only 36 percent of healthcare organizations named unintentional employee action as a breach cause.  However, the numbers aligned as well for BAs, as 55 percent of BAs named unintentional employee action as a breach cause.

Health data, least encrypted

According to a second report from Ponemon and Thales, which tracked extensive usage of encryption solutions for 10 industry sectors over three years, healthcare and pharmaceutical organizations have seen the largest jump in use of encryption solutions, with 40 percent of organizations now reporting encryption use. However, the same report also shows that the least likely data type organizations overall encrypt (at 21 percent) is health-related information, quite a surprising result given the regulatory requirements, sensitivity of the data, and the recent high-profile data breaches in healthcare.

Fingers point to funding and resources

Despite the increased frequency of breaches, and the rising costs to deal with the aftermath, half of these organizations still feel they lack the funding and resources to manage data breaches. The intent is there, as most companies have reevaluated their security practices and have implemented policies and procedures designed to curtail breaches. Those practices—however well intentioned—seem to be doing little to stop breaches from occurring.

For many organizations, it comes down to budget restraints; the majority of both healthcare organizations and BAs feel their organization:

  • Has not invested in the technologies necessary to mitigate a data breach
  • Has not hired enough skilled IT security practitioners
  • Has not adequately funded or provided resources for the incident response process

Healthcare organizations report budgets have decreased since last year (10 percent of respondents) or stayed the same (52 percent). The scenario is similar for BAs: 11 percent reported decreases and 50 percent the budget stayed the same.

Healthcare security is in critical condition

Based on these reports, healthcare security is in critical condition. Breaches are happening frequently and are costing both healthcare organizations and BAs more. According to the Ponemon report, accountability for the data breach incident response process is dispersed throughout the organization, however, both healthcare organizations (30 percent) and business associates (41 percent) say IT is the function most accountable for the data breach response process. But who is responsible for stopping these breaches before a response is required?

CIOs and CISOs need to continue to push the envelope in their organization on breach prevention, escalating it to become a key business priority. They can start by putting their policies and procedures under a microscope, and locating where the black hole is when it comes to putting those policies and procedures into practice with employees. The next step is investing in encryption technology to prevent breaches, not just in insurance policies for when they occur.

 

By Chris Peel, ‎VP Customer Engineering, Echoworx