Third-party attacks expose 12 million health care records

Data Breach overlaying a circuitboard

New analysis from cyber security firm Tenable has found that third-party breaches accounted for over a quarter of the tracked breaches. These breaches accounted for nearly 12 million records exposed in the health care sector.

The firm’s security response team found 237 breaches in the health care sector in 2020. According to Tenable, breaches are set to continue unabated in 2021, with 56 breaches already disclosed through February.

The research found that in a quarter of cases, breaches occurred due to a separate breach at a third-party organization. This happens when hackers breach a third-party vendor that a health care organization uses, giving attackers access to data the health care provider's stores on the third-party system. Its analysis found that third-party breaches accounted for nearly 12 million exposed records.

A single breach accounted for over 10 million of these records. “This breach has been linked back to 61 of their healthcare customers, with the number of exposed records expected to increase as more of these impacted customers disclose their numbers,” researchers said.

Of all the health care breaches disclosed between January 2020 and February 2021, 93% of them included confirmed record exposure. Researchers admitted that one obstacle with accurately tracking breaches is that public disclosures can occur days, months, or even years after the event. Even then, the level of detail available may be scant.

Of these 293 breaches analyzed, 57.34% of the affected organizations have publicly disclosed how many records the breach exposed. The number of records exposed in this period reached nearly 106 million — 76.45% of these were disclosed in 2020.

The research found that ransomware was the most prominent cause of health care breaches, accounting for 54.95%. Other leading causes included email compromise/phishing (21.16%), insider threat (7.17%), and unsecured databases (3.75%).

Boris Cipot, senior security engineer at Synopsys, told ITPro that this research shows that resilience is much more than the deployment of mitigation procedures, and it starts with software design.

“As software is the cornerstone of life today, it is important to apply security during the development process. If not, mitigation techniques will act simply as “band-aids on bullet holes,” Cipot said.

“It is normal to see cybercriminals focused on exploiting known security holes in commonly used software. It is also normal that phishing campaigns are deployed with the intention of gaining information that can help them to further infiltrate critical infrastructure. It is worrying how these things are considered to be normal.”

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.