Friday, November 14, 2014

How health history is more valuable to hackers than your credit card information

By Kelly Yee

A recent article stated that medical records could be sold for up to 20 times more than credit card information on the black market. There are various factors as to why consumers' medical information has become so valuable. This article considers those factors as well as some precautions medical providers can take to better protect themselves against malicious threats.

The first thing that needs to be addressed is why hackers prefer to buy and sell medical records versus credit card information.

If we start with credit card information, we need to address the question of how much a thief can profit from stealing a credit card? Sometimes zero, maybe a few thousand dollars if he or she is lucky. The fraud detection software that credit card companies deploy is so sophisticated that any attempt to purchase say a TV, in a state the victim has never been to, is flagged and rejected immediately. There are whole departments dedicated to try to track the thief, so that any loss in revenue by the credit card company is minimized. In other words, when it comes to stolen credit card information, there is a low reward for a moderate risk.

Now, take medical records. Most of us probably don't understand why our medical history is valuable. Why does it matter who knows our medical history?

But, in reality, in a thief's mind the real question is "who would be interested in paying the most for the medical information I have?" The answer lies with medical providers.

The advent of electronic records management has created a landscape where a thief could steal batches (tens of thousands) or patient records in one fell swoop. One of the original goals of electronic records management was to provide seamless access to an individual's medical records to many. This way, multiple departments and specialties could all have access to a singular account of a patient's medical history. This is great for a hospital where different departments need to communicate with one another. From a security standpoint, however, there are now multiple access points too. Electronic records are very useful in one sense as they help with efficiency, document management and overall accountability, but with anything that has multiple points of entry, there is now more vulnerability to malicious use.

HIPPA compliancy is also another area of consideration as it also attributes in some way to the increased value of medical records on the black market. HIPPA is a federal protection act that medical providers must adhere to. HIPPA protects a patient’s information, which also has security safeguards. Any violation by the medical providers or employees could be pursued by a court of law, criminally and civilly. Simply put, under HIPAA, medical providers are federally required to keep patient’s information safe.
Finally, reputation must also be taken into account when considering the value of health records. In the medical community, medical providers get the majority of their business from referral and reputation. A breach in security or any unprofessional act by a medical provider could cost them several patients and therefore business.
Now let’s look at all of the factors together. Electronic records allow thieves the ability to extract thousands of patients’ records in one attack. Medical providers are federally required to keep patient’s information safe through HIPPA. Any violation of HIPPA alone could cost the medical provider millions. Any known breach of patients’ information would negatively affect the provider’s reputation, from both a patient and partner level. This means that millions of dollars and perhaps the medical provider’s existence could be at stake. In other words when taking into consideration factors like the storage of electronic records, HIPAA compliancy and a medical provider’s reputation; when it comes to medical health data there is a high reward for moderate risk for hackers.
Fortunately, security has become a main topic for medical providers and the electronic records management vendors that support them.   Security features like the ones Penango offers where email is encrypted and authenticated is beginning to be the norm. Two-factor authentication is also becoming the norm. This is when the user will need to know a password and have access to the token that generates the time-varying code. While it is easy to figure out or skim passwords for most user accounts, getting access to the token is much harder, and an attacker would have to steal the user’s phone or physical key fob. All these options can help reduce the risk of an attack.

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