Cybercriminals have an unhealthy obsession with health care data. That’s the word from a new Raytheon/Websense report, titled “2015 Industry Drill-Down Report — Healthcare,” which found that health firms are three times more likely to become the targets of data theft. As noted by a recent CSO Online article, the health industry is also subject to 340 percent more security incidents when compared with other sectors, such as manufacturing, technology or even law. What’s the big attraction here, and is there any way for health care companies to deal with this recurring data breach syndrome?

Myriad of Symptoms

At first glance, it doesn’t look good. Health care companies are four times more likely to endure malware attacks, are 4.5 times more likely to get blocked by the Cryptowall Trojan horse and receive 74 percent more phishing emails than other industries. According to Dark Reading, health care has other problems: missing devices and troublesome employees. Examining a Trend Micro analysis covering the past 10 years worth of data breaches, Dark Reading noted that just 25 percent of health care breaches came from hacking and malware. Another 41 percent were caused by lost or missing devices and just over 17 percent were the result of unintentional disclosure. The remaining 12 percent came from insider leaks to outside sources.

Bottom line? When it comes to fighting data breach syndrome, health care is facing a battle on all fronts — not only are cybercriminals determined to crack corporate systems, but companies face the specter of secure data disappearing when mobile devices go missing, employees use unsanctioned cloud services or individuals attempt to sell information online.

Their Favorite Drug?

Why are attackers so desperate to get their hands on health care data? The CSO piece emphasized that in many cases, the loss of personal health data may be a matter of life and death for patients or it could spell the end of a physician’s career if disclosed. And since most malicious actors aren’t graced with a conscience, they see the leverage here: If you take what’s most valuable to people, they’ll do almost anything to get it back.

InfoWorld, meanwhile, pointed out that health care data has a much longer shelf life than other high-value information, such as financial data. Why? Because as soon as victims notice financial fraud, they lock down accounts and cancel credit cards, effectively cutting off outsider access. But health data contains many permanent and semi-permanent pieces of information, such as Social Security numbers, along with medical and prescription records. That data can be used in both the short and long-term to commit anything from identity theft to insurance or tax fraud. What’s more, the theft of health data isn’t always noticed right away because this information is often traded in specialized, underground forums as an avenue to buy and sell high-cost prescription drugs.

There is hope for health care, however. Carl Leonard of Raytheon/Websense argued that, for health care companies to make progress in curing the problem of data breach, they need to avoid engaging criminals and instead beef up internal security measures. In other words, the advice here is to stop treating the symptoms and go for the underlying cause. Offering to pay malware creators in hopes of salvaging stolen data or unlocking encrypted files is like taking a placebo — it might work, but not for the right reasons. Investing in better detection, mitigation and response techniques, meanwhile, helps triage breaches before they become life-threatening.

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