How Valuable Is Your Health Care Data?

Health care is a hot topic in security right now. A quick search for “hospital ransomware” returns a laundry list of news reports on hospitals as targets of cyberattacks. However, it is not just ransomware that people need to worry about. In the report Health Warning: Cyberattacks Are Targeting the Health Care Industry, our McAfee Labs team digs into the dark underbelly of cybercrime and data loss involving health care records. In this case, the darkrefers to the dark web.

Following up on the Hidden Data Economy report, we looked further to see if medical data was showing up for sale. We found dark web vendors offering up medical data records by the tens of thousands. One database for sale offered information on 397,000 patients!

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These databases contained not only names, addresses, and phone numbers of patients, but also data about their health care insurance providers and payment card information.

What’s it worth?

Of course, for this to be worth a cybercriminal’s time, they must be able to profit from it. We are finding that health care records to be a bit less valuable than records such as payment card records that contain financial information. The going price for a single record of information on a user that includes name, Social Security number, birth date, account information such as payment card number (referred to as fullz in dark web lingo) can range from $14 to $25 per record. Medical records sell for a much lower price, anywhere from a fraction of a cent to around $2.50 per record.

Does this mean medical records are not as valuable? Although not as lucrative as fullz, medical record information has  higher value than just a username/password record when sold on the dark web. We think that sellers are trying to maximize their gain from the data theft. In one underground market forum, a seller listed 40,000 medical records for $500, but specifically removed the financial data and sold that separately.

Why is the health care industry a target?

Although there are regulations and guidelines for the health care industry to protect patient information, the industry itself faces many challenges. Foremost, the focus of the majority of health care workers is the treatment of patients. Because they are dealing with life and death situations, the equipment used to treat patients must be working and available at a moment’s notice. This means there is often little time to install a patch or an update on a piece of medical equipment. The equipment may also be running an outdated operating system that simply cannot be patched to protect against the latest threats. It is not uncommon to see medical equipment running on Windows 95. The medical industry is also subject to FDA regulations and approvals. There may be equipment that is approved by the FDA only on an older operating system and would need to be recertified if updated.

How do I stay safe?

Unfortunately, these data breaches are outside the control of the average person. Health care providers typically use the information they collect from you for your treatment, so you cannot withhold your home address or phone number. As a consumer, you need to be alert for health care data breaches that potentially impact you.

  • Pay attention to the news: Once discovered, medical data breaches tend to make the evening news. Even if you went to a health care provider only once to get an x-ray because you thought you broke your thumb and that provider experiences a data breach, odds are your information was compromised.
  • Monitor your credit score: A common use for resold information is the opening of credit cards or bank accounts. Subscribing to a credit-monitoring service will help you know if a new account has been opened without your knowledge.
  • Watch out for phishing: If your contact information has been stolen, you are almost certain to be the target of numerous phishing attempts. Keep an eye out for suspicious emails and text messages. You can read one of my previous blogs for tips on how to spot a phishing attempt.

The nature of today’s digital world can unfortunately cause our personal and private data to be leaked. If you stay vigilant, you can reduce the impact these breaches will have on your life.

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Stay Safe!

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