Cybercriminals May Value Medical Data Even More Than Credit Card Numbers

Law enforcement officials are suggesting that cybercriminals are increasingly targeting health care organizations because medical data may be more than 10 times more valuable on the black market than credit card information.

Dave Kennedy, CEO of security firm TrustedSec LLC, told Reuters that those who break into organizations such as Community Health Systems — which was reportedly targeted by Chinese cybercriminals last month — are able to sell large batches of medical data in order to commit fraud. This includes the ability to purchase drugs or even medical equipment that can then be sold.

According to HealthITSecurity.com, the Community Health Systems breach exposed medical data for more than 4.5 million patients, leading the FBI and others to issue warnings about lax information technology security practices in hospitals, clinics and other health care organizations. Unlike credit card fraud, where incidents are usually reported almost immediately after personal information has been lost or compromised, data theft of medical information may go undetected for years because fraudsters use names, policy numbers and diagnosis codes to create fake IDs and phony insurance claims.

Ponemon Institute founder Larry Ponemon told Guardian Liberty Voice that he has seen an increase this year in the number of cyberattacks and the number of stolen records. The percentage of reported criminal hacks has risen from 20 percent in 2009 to 40 percent in 2013, he said.

A clinical diagnostics laboratory based in Huntsville, Alabama, recently notified more than 7,000 individuals of a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) breach after the company discovered protected health information on a third-party server had been unsecured for nearly three years, according to Healthcare IT News. A whopping 39 million people have had their protected health information compromised in HIPAA privacy or security breaches involving 500 people or more.

According to NJ.com, in a 2012 HSS Office of Civil Rights pilot audit program, two-thirds of 115 organizations did not undergo the required HIPAA security and risk assessments. Because business partners of health care organizations could pose a risk as well, they will be included in a similar audit later this year.

Though the culprits for these kinds of incidents vary widely, according to the Memphis Business Journal, health care information has surfaced on a black-market site called The Evolution Market from an entity known only as “ImperialRussia.” A set of five full records — which could include anything from the victim’s name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, Social Security number and date of birth — was going for $8 per record.

Of course, with the increased digitization of all kinds of personally identifiable information, there is no turning back for hospitals and other health care organizations. The diagnosis is simple: Medical data must become more secure. The prescription, however, may take more time to develop.

Contributor'photo

Shane Schick

Writer & Editor

Shane Schick is a writer, editor and speaker who focuses on how information technology creates business value. He lives...