Healthcare Data Security

Healthcare Data Breach Report: April 2018

April was a particularly bad month for healthcare data breaches with both the number of breaches and the number of individuals impacted by breaches both substantially higher than in March.

There were 41 healthcare data breaches reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights in April. Those breaches resulted in the theft/exposure of 894,874 healthcare records.

Healthcare Data Breach Trends

For the past four months, the number of healthcare data breaches reported to OCR has increased month over month.

Healthcare data breaches by month

For the third consecutive month, the number of records exposed in healthcare data breaches has increased.

HEalthcare records exposed by month

Causes of Healthcare Data Breaches in April 2018

The healthcare industry may be a big target for hackers, but the biggest cause of healthcare data breaches in April was unauthorized access/disclosure incidents. While cybersecurity defences have been improved to make it harder for hackers to gain access to healthcare data, there is still a major problem preventing accidental data breaches by insiders and malicious acts by healthcare employees.

Causes of Healthcare Data Breaches in April 2018

Records exposed by breach type (April 2018)

Largest Healthcare Data Breaches in April 2018

More than half of the healthcare records exposed in April were the result of a single security incident at the California Department of Developmental Services. Thieves broke into California Department of Developmental Services offices, stole electronic equipment, and started a fire. Digital copies of PHI on the stolen equipment were encrypted and were therefore not exposed. Most of the PHI was in physical form and it does not appear any paperwork was taken by the burglars.

While hacking usually results in the highest number of exposed/stolen records, in April the most serious breaches in terms of the number of individuals affected, were unauthorised access/disclosure incidents. In April there were 11 major breaches involving the theft/exposure of more than 10,000 records.

Covered Entity Entity Type Records Exposed Breach Type
CA Department of Developmental Services Health Plan 582,174 Unauthorized Access/Disclosure
Center for Orthopaedic Specialists – Providence Medical Institute (PMI) Healthcare Provider 81,550 Hacking/IT Incident
MedWatch LLC Business Associate 40,621 Unauthorized Access/Disclosure
Inogen, Inc. Healthcare Provider 29,528 Hacking/IT Incident
Capital Digestive Care, Inc. Healthcare Provider 17,639 Unauthorized Access/Disclosure
Iowa Health System d/b/a UnityPoint Health Business Associate 16,429 Hacking/IT Incident
Knoxville Heart Group, Inc. Healthcare Provider 15,995 Hacking/IT Incident
Athens Heart Center, P.C. Healthcare Provider 12,158 Hacking/IT Incident
Fondren Orthopedic Group L.L.P. Healthcare Provider 11,552 Unauthorized Access/Disclosure
Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services Healthcare Provider 11,000 Unauthorized Access/Disclosure
Carolina Digestive Health Associates, PA Healthcare Provider 10,988 Unauthorized Access/Disclosure

Location of Breached PHI

One of the main causes of healthcare breaches in April was phishing attacks. There were nine data breaches involving the hacking of email accounts in April. The high number of phishing attacks highlights the need for healthcare organizations to invest in technology to prevent malicious emails from being delivered to employees’ inboxes and to improve security awareness of the workforce.

Location of Breached PHI (April 2018)

Data Breaches by Covered Entity

The majority of breaches in April were reported by healthcare providers, followed by health plans and business associates. While five breaches were reported by business associates, there was business associate involvement in at least 11 incidents in April.

Data Breaches by Covered Entity (April 2018)

Healthcare Data Breaches by State

California is the most populated state and often tops the list for healthcare data breaches, although in April Illinois was the worst affected state with 6 reported breaches. California was second worst with 5 breaches, followed by Texas with 3 breaches.

Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Jersey, Virginia, and Wisconsin each has two breaches reported, while Georgia, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee each had one reported breach in April.

Financial Penalties for HIPAA Covered Entities

The HHS’ Office for Civil Rights has only issued two financial penalties for HIPAA violations so far in 2018, with no cases resolved since February.

There was one HIPAA violation case resolved by a state attorney general in April. Virtua Medical Group agreed to resolve violations of state and HIPAA laws with the New Jersey attorney general’s office for $417,816.

The breach that triggered the investigation exposed the names, diagnoses, and prescription information of 1,654 New Jersey residents. The information was accessible over the Internet as a result of a misconfigured server.

A Division of Consumer Affairs investigation alleged Virtua Medical Group had failed to conduct a thorough risk analysis and did not implement appropriate security measures to reduce risk to a reasonable and acceptable level.

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Healthcare IT Security Budgets Frozen Despite Increase in Cyberattacks

A recent report from Black Book Research has revealed more than 90% of healthcare organizations have experienced a data breach since Q3 2016, yet IT security spending at 88% of hospitals remains at 2016 levels.

The data comes from a survey of more than 2,400 security professionals from 680 provider organizations. The aim of the study was to identify the reasons why the healthcare industry is particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Black Book Research explains in the report that since 2015 there have been more than 180 million healthcare records stolen, with approximately one in 12 healthcare consumers affected by a data breach at a provider organization. Nine out of ten healthcare providers have experienced a breach, but almost 50% of providers have experienced more than 5 data breaches since Q3, 2016.

There has been a marked increase in healthcare data breaches over the past three years, with cybercriminals and nation state-backed hackers increasingly targeting the healthcare industry. Even though cyberattacks are on the rise, healthcare IT security budgets are not increasing. It is proving difficult to find the necessary money to make significant improvements to cybersecurity defenses since cybersecurity does not generate revenue. Part of the problem is a lack of funds to replace vulnerable legacy systems and devices. There simply isn’t the money available to commit to such an undertaking.

96% of IT professionals believe that threat actors now have the upper hand and medical enterprises are not identifying and addressing vulnerabilities quickly enough. Each year security posture should improve as cybersecurity programs mature, but that does not appear to be the case in healthcare. Only 12% of respondents believe their security posture will improve in 2019, and 23% of provider organizations believe their security posture will be worse next year.

Money is being spent on cybersecurity solutions, although all too often solutions are purchased blindly, with IT departments lacking vision or discernment. The study revealed 92% of data security product and service decisions have been made at the C-suite level, with department managers having no input into purchasing decisions.

89% of surveyed CIOs said they purchased cybersecurity solutions to meet compliance requirements rather than to reduce risk. When cybersecurity solutions are purchased, it is rare for the effectiveness of those solutions to be evaluated. Only 4% of organizations surveyed had a steering committee that evaluated the impact of investments in cybersecurity.

Healthcare providers appear to have realized the benefits of appointing a chief information security officer (CISO) yet recruiting a suitably qualified person to fill the position is proving difficult. As a result of the inability to recruit staff, 21% of healthcare providers have turned to MSPs to provide security-as-a-service or have outsourced security to partners and consultants.

Engaging the services of a cybersecurity vendor prior to an attack allows hospitals to negotiate the best deal; however, many hospitals have been placed at a severe disadvantage by seeking help from third parties following a cybersecurity incident. 58% of hospitals only chose to outsource security following a cybersecurity breach.

While scanning for vulnerabilities allows healthcare organizations to identify and address weaknesses to prevent data breaches, 32% of healthcare organizations did not perform a scan prior to suffering a cyberattack.

A fast response to a cyberattack can greatly limit the harm caused, although detecting cyberattacks and data breaches remains a major challenge. 29% of healthcare organizations lack a security solution that allows them to instantly detect and respond to a cyberattack.

While most hospitals have developed an incident response plan, 83% of surveyed healthcare organizations have not performed a cybersecurity incident drill to test the effectiveness of their incident response plan. Without testing, it is not possible to tell how effective the plan will be.

A lack of security objectives in strategic and tactical plans, insufficient funding, poorly chosen cybersecurity solutions, and a reactive rather than proactive cybersecurity strategy makes the healthcare industry particularly prone to attack. Until changes are made to address all of those areas, the healthcare industry will remain particularly vulnerable to attack and cyberattacks are likely to continue to increase.

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Warnings Issued Over Vulnerable Medical Devices

Warnings have been issued by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) about vulnerabilities in several medical devices manufactured by Silex Technology, GE Healthcare, and Phillips. If the vulnerabilities were to be exploited, an unauthorized individual could potentially take control of the devices.

Phillips Brilliance CT Scanners

In early May, Phillips alerted the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) about security vulnerabilities affecting its Brilliance CT scanners. Phillips has been working to remediate the vulnerabilities and has been working with DHS to alert users of its devices to help them reduce risk. There have been no reports received to suggest any of the vulnerabilities have been exploited in the wild.

Three vulnerabilities have been discovered to affect the following scanners:

  • Brilliance 64 version 2.6.2 and below
  • Brilliance iCT versions 4.1.6 and below
  • Brillance iCT SP versions 3.2.4 and below
  • Brilliance CT Big Bore 2.3.5 and below

See ICS-CERT advisory (ICSMA-18-123-01)

The Brilliance CT scanners operate user functions within a contained kiosk environment in the Windows OS. The vulnerability – CVE-2018-8853 – could be exploited to allow an unauthorized individual or kiosk application user to gain unauthorized elevated privileges and access to unauthorized resources from the underlying Windows OS.

CVE-2018-8861 is a vulnerability in the Brilliance CT kiosk environment which could be exploited to allow an unauthorized attacker or limited access kiosk user to break out of the containment of the kiosk environment, gain elevated privileges from the underlying Windows OS, and access resources from the operating system.

CVE-2018-8857 is a vulnerability associated with hard-coded credentials used for inbound authentication and outbound communication. Those credentials could be compromised, allowing access to the system to be gained.

CVE-2018-8853 and CVE-2018-8861 both have a CVSS v3 base score of 6.1, while CVE-2018-8857 has a CVSS v3 base score of 8.4.

The vulnerabilities cannot be exploited remotely and require user interaction. According to a statement issued by Phillips, “An attacker would need local access to the kiosk environment of the medical device to be able to implement the exploit.” If exploited, the attacker could execute commands with elevated privileges and gain access to “restricted system resources and information.” The vulnerability would require a low level of skill to exploit.

The vulnerabilities are considered low-risk, but under the company’s responsible disclosure policy, an advisory was issued to alert users to the risk and provide information to reduce risk to a minimal level.

Phillips recommends only using Brilliance CT products within the specifications authorized by Phillips, such as only using Phillips-approved software, system services, and security configurations. Physical controls should also be implemented to limit access to the devices.

Phillips has taken action by remediating hard-coded credentials for its Brilliance iCT 4.x system and later versions and will continue to assess further options for remediating the vulnerabilities.

Silex SX-500, SD-320AN Wireless and GE Healthcare MobileLink

Two vulnerabilities have been discovered to affect certain Silex Technology products and GE Healthcare MobileLink technology. The vulnerabilities, tracked as CVE-2018-6020 and CVE-2018-6021, have been assigned a CVSS v3 rating of 6.5 and 7.4 respectively. See ICS-CERT advisory (ICSMA-18-128-01)

The following products are susceptible to one or both of the vulnerabilities:

GEH-500 (V 1.54 and earlier), SX-500 (all versions), GEH-SD-320AN (V GEH-1.1 and earlier), and SD-320AN (V 2.01 and earlier). The following GE MAC Resting ECG analysis systems may use vulnerable MobileLink Technology: MAC 3500, MAC 5000 (E.O.L 2012), MAC 5500 and MAC 5500 HD.

The vulnerabilities would require a low level of skill to exploit and could allow an unauthorized individual to modify system settings and remotely execute code. ICS-CERT notes that public exploits for the vulnerabilities are available.

CVE-2018-6020 concerns a lack of verification of authentication when making certain POST requests, which could allow the modification of system settings. CVE-2018-6021 concerns an improperly sanitized system call parameter, which could allow remote code execution.

The following recommendations have been made by Silex/GE Healthcare:

To mitigate CVE-2018-6020 on GE MobileLink/SX-500, users should enable ‘update’ account within the web interface, as this is not enabled by default.  To prevent changes to device configuration, users should set a secondary password for the ‘update’ account.

Silex Technology and GE Healthcare have produced updated firmware to resolve the CVE-2018-6021 vulnerability for GE MobileLink/GEH-SD-320AN, which will be available for download from May 31, 2018 once testing has been completed.

NCCIS suggests users should minimize network exposure for control system devices and/or systems to ensure they cannot be accessed over the Internet. All controls systems and remote devices should be located behind firewalls and isolated from business networks. If remote access is required, a VPN should be used.

NCCIC has advised users to conduct an impact analysis and risk assessment prior to any attempt to mitigate the vulnerabilities.

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Spate of Phishing Attacks on Healthcare Organizations Sees 90,000 Records Exposed

The past few weeks have seen a significant rise in successful phishing attacks on healthcare organizations. In a little over four weeks there have been 10 major email hacking incidents reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, each of which has resulted in the exposure and potential theft of more than 500 healthcare records. Those ten incidents alone have seen almost 90,000 healthcare records compromised.

Recent Email Hacking and Phishing Attacks on Healthcare Organizations

HIPAA-Covered Entity Records Exposed
Inogen Inc. 29,529
Knoxville Heart Group 15,995
USACS Management Group Ltd 15,552
UnityPoint Health 16,429
Texas Health Physicians Group 3,808
Scenic Bluffs Health Center 2,889
ATI Holdings LLC 1,776
Worldwide Insurance Services 1,692
Billings Clinic 949
Diagnostic Radiology & Imaging, LLC 800
The Oregon Clinic Undisclosed


So far this year there have been three data breaches involving the hacking of email accounts that have exposed more than 30,000 records. Agency for Health Care Administration suffered a 30,000-record breach in January, ATI Holdings, LLC experienced a breach in March that resulted in the exposure of 35,136 records, and the largest email hacking incident of the year affected Onco360/CareMed Specialty Pharmacy and impacted 53,173 patients.

Wombat Security’s 2018 State of the Phish Report revealed three quarters of organizations experienced phishing attacks in 2017 and 53% experienced a targeted attack. The Verizon 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report, released in May, revealed 43% of data breaches involved phishing, and a 2017 survey conducted by HIMSS Analytics on behalf of Mimecast revealed 78% of U.S healthcare providers have experienced a successful email-related cyberattack.

How Healthcare Organizations Can Improve Phishing Defenses

Phishing targets the weakest link in an organization: Employees. It therefore stands to reason that one of the best defenses against phishing is improving security awareness of employees and training the workforce how to recognize phishing attempts.

Security awareness training is a requirement under HIPAA (45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(5)(i)). All members of the workforce, including management, must be trained on security threats and the risk they pose to the organization.

“An organization’s training program should be an ongoing, evolving process and flexible enough to educate workforce members on new cybersecurity threats and how to respond to them,” suggested OCR in its July 2017 cybersecurity newsletter.

HIPAA does not specify how frequently security awareness training should be provided, although ongoing programs including a range of training methods should be considered. OCR indicates many healthcare organizations have opted for bi-annual training accompanied by monthly security updates and newsletters, although more frequent training sessions may be appropriate depending on the level of risk faced by an organization.

A combination of classroom-based sessions, CBT training, newsletters, email alerts, posters, team discussions, quizzes, and other training techniques can help an organization develop a security culture and greatly reduce susceptibility to phishing attacks.

The threat landscape is constantly changing. To keep abreast of new threats and scams, healthcare organizations should consider signing up with threat intelligence services. Alerts about new techniques that are being used to distribute malicious software and the latest social engineering ploys and phishing scams can be communicated to employees to raise awareness of new threats.

In addition to training, technological safeguards should be implemented to reduce risk. Advance antivirus solutions and anti-malware defences should be deployed to detect the installation of malicious software, while intrusion detection systems can be used to rapidly identify suspicious network activity.

Email security solutions such as spam filters should be used to limit the number of potentially malicious emails that are delivered to end users’ inboxes. Solutions should analyze inbound email attachments using multiple AV engines, and be configured to quarantine emails containing potentially harmful file types.

Embedded URLs should be checked at the point when a user clicks. Attempts to access known malicious websites should be blocked and an analysis of unknown URLs should be performed before access to a webpage is permitted.

Phishing is highly profitable, attacks are often successful, and it remains one of the easiest ways to gain a foothold in a network and gain access to PHI. As such, phishing will remain one of the biggest threats to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI. It is up to healthcare organizations to make it as difficult as possible for the attacks to succeed.

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DoD IG Discovers Serious Flaws in Navy and Air Force EHR and Security Systems and Potential HIPAA Violations

A Department of Defense Inspector General (DoDIG) audit of the electronic health record (EHR) and security systems at the Defense Health Agency (DHA), Navy, and Air Force has uncovered serious security vulnerabilities that could potentially be exploited to gain access to systems and protected health information (PHI).

This is the second DoDIG report from recent audits of military training facilities (MTFs). The first report revealed the DHA and Army had failed to consistently implement security protocols to safeguard EHRs and systems that stored, processed, or transmitted PHI. The latest report, which covers the DHA, Navy, and Air Force, has revealed serious vulnerabilities in 11 different areas.

Inconsistency of implementing security protocols to protect EHRs and PHI, and the ineffective administrative, technical, and physical safeguards deployed constitute violations of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Rules. Those violations could attract financial penalties of up to $1.5 million per violation category.

The DoDIG visited three Navy and two Air Force facilities and assessed 17 information systems across the five locations.

  • Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, Camp Pendleton, CA
  • San Diego Naval Medical Center, San Diego, CA
  • S. Naval Ship Mercy, San Diego, CA
  • 436th Medical Group, Dover, DW
  • Wright-Patterson Medical Center, Dayton, OH

3 DoD EHR systems, 3 modified DoD EHR systems, 9 service-specific systems, and 2 DHA-owned systems were assessed.

There were instances where vulnerabilities had gone undetected and many cases of detected vulnerabilities failing to be addressed in a reasonable time frame. In its report, DoDIG said the audit at the 436th Medical Group revealed 342 of the 1,430 vulnerabilities identified in May had not been addressed and appeared in the vulnerability scan conducted in June.

The reason for the failure to consistently implement security protocols and address vulnerabilities differed at each audited site, but were largely due to a lack of resources, a lack of guidance, system incompatibility, and vendor limitations.

Security issues were identified in the following areas:

  • Failure to consistently implement multi-factor authentication
  • Failure to configure passwords to meet DoD length/complexity requirements
  • Failure to address known network vulnerabilities
  • Failures to set privileges based on users’ assigned duties
  • Failure to configure controls to lock EHRs after 15 minutes of inactivity
  • Failure to review system activity reports to identify suspicious activities and access attempts
  • Failure to develop standard operating procedures and manage system access
  • Failure to implement appropriate and adequate security protocols to protect ePHI and PHI from unauthorized access
  • Failure to maintain an inventory of all service-specific systems that stored, processed, or transmitted PHI
  • Failure to develop and maintain privacy impact assessments

“Without well-defined, effectively implemented system security protocols, the DHA, Navy, and Air Force compromised the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of PHI”, wrote DoDIG in its report. “Security protocols, when not applied or ineffective, increase the risk of successful cyberattacks; system and data breaches; data loss and manipulation; and unauthorized disclosures of PHI.”

DoDIG made several recommendations to improve security which included configuring systems used to store, process, or transmit ePHI to lock automatically after 15 minutes of inactivity; the development of an oversight plan to ensure recommendations are applied across all locations; actions to be taken to address vulnerabilities in a timely manner; implement procedures to only grant access to systems used to store, process, and transmit Phi based on users’ responsibilities.

DoDIG also recommended the Surgeons General for the Departments of the Navy and Air Force coordinate with the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and the Air Force Medical Service to assess whether the issues discovered exist at other service-specific military training facilities.

On the whole, the recommendations were accepted, although at certain locations some recommendations remain unresolved and require additional comments.

The DHA Director agreed that the DHA could potentially configure systems to lock after 15 minutes of inactivity, but did not provide assurances that its systems would be changed to incorporate that control.

The Executive Director for the Naval Medical Center, San Diego disagreed with one recommendation. The Military Sealift Command Chief of Staff partly agreed with two recommendations and disagreed with one, but suggested additional controls and alternate actions that could be taken to address all recommendations for the USNS Mercy.

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TitanHQ’s WebTitan Now Available Through Kaseya IT Complete Suite

TitanHQ has announced its DNS-based web filtering solution, WebTitan, has now been integrated into Kaseya’s IT Complete platform. The integration allows MSPs serving the healthcare industry to offer their clients an additional layer of protection against web-based threats such as phishing, malware, and ransomware.

Via Kaseya, managed service providers can access cybersecurity solutions from some of the biggest names in the industry, including Cisco, Dell, and Bitdefender. While the platform provides MSPs with a wide range of easy-to-deploy cybersecurity solutions, one notable absence was an MSP-friendly content filtering solution.

“Security is a critical service that all MSPs must deliver. Adding WebTitan to our open ecosystem of partner solutions means our customers now have even greater access to best of breed technologies to meet the needs of their business,” said Frank Tisellano, Jr., Kaseya vice president product management and design. “With growing concerns over malware, ransomware and phishing as key threats to MSP customers, WebTitan adds a highly effective layer of protection.”

A web filtering solution is a powerful tool that allows healthcare organizations to block attempts by employees to visit malicious websites, either through the clicking of hyperlinks in phishing emails, general web browsing, or redirects to malicious sites via malvertising.  A web filter is an important additional tool that helps to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information by blocking phishing attacks, malware, and ransomware downloads.

In the past month alone 10 email-based hacking incidents have been reported to OCR, with each incident resulting in the exposure of more than 500 healthcare records. The high volume of successful phishing attacks on healthcare employees highlights the need for advanced technological controls to prevent healthcare employees from visiting malicious websites and disclosing their account credentials.

Managed service providers can now access the multi-award-winning web filtering solution through Kaseya VSA and the Kaseya IT Complete Suite and deploy network-wide DNS-based web filtering in a matter of minutes, giving their healthcare clients even greater protection against malware, ransomware and phishing attacks.

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More than a Dozen Becton, Dickinson and Company Products Vulnerable to WPA2 Krack Attacks

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a warning about certain Becton, Dickinson and Company products that have been discovered to be vulnerable to WPA2 Krack attacks. By exploiting the vulnerability, threat actors could install malware on the devices or obtain or alter patient information.

Krack – or key reinstallation – attacks take advantage of a flaw in the WPA2 protocol for securing WiFi communications. According to ICS-CERT, “The four-way hand shake traffic in the Wi-Fi Protected Access WPA and WPA2 protocol can be manipulated to allow nonce reuse resulting in key reinstallation. This could allow an attacker to execute a ‘man-in-the-middle’ attack, enabling the attacker within radio range to replay, decrypt, or spoof frames.”

In order for the flaw to be exploited, an attacker would need to be in radio range of a vulnerable device, which limits the potential for the flaw to be exploited. Exploiting the flaw is also not straightforward and requires a high level of technical skill.

Since the flaw is in the WPA2 protocol used to secure modern Wi-Fi networks, many devices were discovered to be vulnerable to attack. The flaw was first identified in October last year, and some vendors have already released patches to prevent the flaw from being exploited.

If exploited, the flaw would allow patient data to be intercepted over Wi-Fi. Becton, Dickinson and Company issued a security bulletin warning users about the vulnerability, which the company says could be exploited through an adjacent network without user privileges or user interaction.

BD has assessed its products and reports that the flaw has been addressed through third-party vendor patches through BD’s routine patch deployment process for the following products:

  • BD Alaris™ Gateway Workstation
  • BD Pyxis™ Anesthesia ES
  • BD Pyxis™ Anesthesia System 4000
  • BD Pyxis™ Anesthesia System 3500
  • BD Pyxis™ MedStation 4000 T2
  • BD Pyxis™ MedStation ESv
  • BD Pyxis™ SupplyStation
  • BD Pyxis™ Supply Roller
  • BD Pyxis™ CIISafe – Workstation
  • BD Pyxis™ StockStation System

There are issues applying patches to correct the flaw on the following products which require coordination with BD to correctly deploy the patches:

  • BD Pyxis™ ParAssist System
  • BD Pyxis™ Parx
  • BD Pyxis™ Parx handheld

BD is contacting customers who use those products to schedule a time to deploy the patches. BD has also suggested customers take other steps to reduce the risk associated with Krack:

  • Ensure the latest recommended updates for Wi-Fi access points have been implemented in Wi-Fi enabled networks
  • Ensure appropriate physical controls are in place to prevent attackers from being within physical range of an affected Wi-Fi access point and client
  • Ensure data has been backed up and stored according to your individual processes and disaster recovery procedures

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OCR Encourages Healthcare Organizations to Conduct a Gap Analysis

In its April 2018 cybersecurity newsletter, OCR draws attention to the benefits of performing a gap analysis in addition to a risk analysis. The latter is required to identify risks and vulnerabilities that could potentially be exploited to gain access to ePHI, while a gap analysis helps healthcare organizations and their business associates determine the extent to which an entity is compliant with specific elements of the HIPAA Security Rule.

The Risk Analysis

HIPAA requires covered entities and their business associates to perform a comprehensive, organization-wide risk analysis to identify all potential risks to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI – 45 CFR § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(A).

If a risk analysis is not performed, healthcare organizations cannot be certain that all potential vulnerabilities have been identified. Vulnerabilities would likely remain that could be exploited by threat actors to gain access to ePHI.

While HIPAA does not specify the methodology that should be used when conducting risk analyses, OCR explained in its newsletter that risk analyses must contain certain elements:

  • A comprehensive assessment of all risks to all ePHI, regardless of where the data is created, received, maintained, or transmitted, or the source or location of ePHI.
  • All locations and information systems where ePHI is created, received, maintained, or transmitted must be included in the risk analysis, so an inventory should be created that includes all applications, mobile devices, communications equipment, electronic media, networks, and physical locations in addition to workstations, servers, and EHRs.
  • The risk analysis should cover technical and non-technical vulnerabilities, the latter includes policies and procedures, with the former concerned with software flaws, weaknesses in IT systems, and misconfigured information systems and security solutions.
  • The effectiveness of current controls must be assessed and documented, including all security solutions such as AV software, endpoint protection systems, encryption software, and the implementation of patch management processes.
  • The likelihood that a specific threat will exploit a vulnerability and the impact should a vulnerability be exploited must be assessed and documented.
  • The level of risk should be determined for any specific threat or vulnerability. With a risk level assigned, it will be easier to determine the main priorities when mitigating risks through the risk management process.
  • The risk analysis must be documented in sufficient detail to demonstrate that a comprehensive, organization-wide risk analysis has been conducted, and that the risk analysis was accurate and covered all locations, devices, applications, policies, and procedures involving ePHI. OCR will request this documentation in the event of an investigation or compliance audit.
  • A risk analysis is not a one-time event to ensure compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule – It must part of an ongoing process for continued compliance. The process must be regularly reviewed and updated, and risk analyses should be performed regularly. HIPAA does not stipulate how frequently a full or partial risk analysis should be performed. OCR suggests risk analyses are most effective when integrated into business processes.

Once a risk analysis has been performed, all risks and vulnerabilities identified must be addressed through a HIPAA-compliant security risk management process – 45 CFR § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(B) – to reduce those risks to a reasonable and appropriate level.

Guidance on conducting an organization-wide risk analysis can be found on this link (HHS)

The Gap Analysis

A gap analysis is not a requirement of HIPAA Rules, although it can help healthcare organizations confirm that the requirements of the HIPAA Security Rule have been satisfied.

A gap analysis can be used as a partial assessment of an organizations compliance efforts or could cover all provisions of the HIPAA Security Rule.  Several gap analyses could be performed, each assessing a different set of standards and implementation specifications of the HIPAA Security Rule.

The gap analysis can give HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates an overall view of their compliance efforts, can help them discover areas where they are yet compliant with HIPAA Rules, and identify any gaps in the controls that have already been implemented.

Note that a gap analysis is not equivalent to a risk analysis, as it does not cover all possible risk to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI as required by 45 C.F.R. §164.308(a)(1)(ii)(A).

OCR offers the following example of a simple gap analysis:

Source: OCR

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Study Reveals Healthcare Industry Employees Struggling to Understand Data Security Risks

The recently published Beyond the Phish Report from Wombat Security, now a division of Proofpoint, has revealed healthcare employees have a lack of understanding of common security threats.

For the report, Wombat Security conducted a survey of more than 85,000 employees across a wide range of industry sectors. Respondents to the survey were asked questions designed to probe their knowledge of data security.

Respondents were asked about security best practices that would help them avoid ransomware attacks, malware installations, and phishing attacks and established the level of expertise at protecting confidential information, defending against email and web-based scams, securing mobile devices, working safely in remote locations, identifying physical risks, disposing of sensitive information securely, using strong passwords, and safe use of social media and the web.

Overall, the healthcare industry performed second worst for security awareness, just ahead of the hospitality industry, with the survey highlighting several areas of weakness that could potentially be exploited by cybercriminals to gain access to healthcare networks and sensitive data.

Respondents from the healthcare sector performed poorly in several areas, registering a relatively high percentage of incorrect answers related to identifying phishing emails, securely disposing of sensitive information, and protecting mobile devices and sensitive information stored on those devices.

Even though HIPAA requires healthcare employees to dispose of PHI securely, 28% of questions in this area were answered incorrectly. 27% of questions about protecting mobile devices and information were answered incorrectly, as were 26% of questions relating to the protection of confidential information, and 21% of questions on the identification of common security issues and safe use of the Internet.

Overall, respondents from the healthcare industry answered 23% of questions incorrectly, on a par with the manufacturing industry and professional services. Only hospitality industry employees performed worse. The average percentage of incorrect answers across all industry sectors was 19%.

Areas where respondents from the healthcare industry performed best were the use of safe, strong passwords and the identification and prevention of ransomware attacks, with just 12% and 10% of questions answered incorrectly.

“Our hope is that by sharing this data, infosec professionals will think more about the ways they are evaluating vulnerabilities within their organizations and recognize the opportunity they have to better equip employees to apply cybersecurity best practices and, as a result, better manage end-user risk,” said Joe Ferrara, Wombat General Manager.

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