Latest HIPAA News

Healthcare Industry has Highest Number of Reported Data Breaches in 2021

Data breaches declined by 24% globally in the first 6 months of 2021, although breaches in the United States increased by 1.5% in that period according to the 2021 Mid-Year Data Breach QuickView Report from Risk-Based Security.

Risk Based Security identified 1,767 publicly reported breaches between January 1, 2021 and June 30, 2021. Across those breaches, 18.8 billion records were exposed, which represents a 32% decline from the first 6 months of 2020 when 27.8 billion records were exposed. 85% of the exposed records in the first half of 2021 occurred in just one breach at the Forex trading service FBS Markets.

The report confirms the healthcare industry continues to be targeted by cyber threat actors, with the industry having reported more data breaches than any other industry sector this year. Healthcare has been the most targeted industry or has been close to the top since at least 2017 and it does not appear that trend will be reversed any time soon. 238 healthcare data breaches were reported in the first 6 months of 2021, with finance & insurance the next most attacked sector with 194 reported incidents, followed by information with 180 data breaches.

The report shows there have been significant shifts in data breach trends in 2021. While data breaches have declined globally and have remained fairly constant in the United States, there has been a marked increase in ransomware attacks. Risk Based Security recorded 352 ransomware attacks in the first 6 months of 2021 and, if that pace continues, the number of attacks will be significantly higher than 2020.

Ransomware attacks are extremely costly in healthcare due to the long period of downtime, and without access to medical records patient safety is put at risk. This is of course known to ransomware gangs. The reliance on access to data and the high cost of downtime increases the probability of the ransom being paid.

In 2020, data breaches started to take longer to be reported and that trend has continued in 2021. This is in part due to the increase in ransomware attacks, which can take longer to investigate, but even taking that into account there were many cases when breach notifications took an unusually long time to be issued and that has started to attract attention from regulators.

“Ransomware attacks continue at an alarming pace, inflicting serious damage on the victim organizations that rely on their services,” said Inga Goddijn, Executive Vice President at Risk Based Security. “The slow pace of reporting brought on by lengthy incident investigations has not improved and attackers continue to find new opportunities to take advantage of changing circumstances.”

The majority of reported breaches (67.97%) were hacking incidents, with only 100 (5.66%) due to viruses, and just 45 email incidents (2.55%). There were 76 web breaches reported (4.30%); however, they resulted in the highest number of records being breached.

Data breaches that exposed access credentials such as email addresses and passwords have remained consistent with other years, with email addresses exposed in 40% of breaches and passwords in 33%. The majority of reported breaches in 2021 were the result of external threat actors (78.66%), with 13.75% caused by insiders. Out of the confirmed insider breaches, the majority were accidental (58.85%), with 18.52% caused by malicious insiders.

Risk Based Security also notes that breach severity is increasing. Large numbers of data breaches have been reported in 2021 that involved sensitive data, which is a particularly worrying trend.

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Multiple Critical Vulnerabilities Identified in Pneumatics System Used in 2,300 U.S. Hospitals

Nine critical vulnerabilities have been identified in the Nexus Control Panel of Swisslog Healthcare Translogic Pneumatic Tube System (PTS) stations, which are used in more than 80% of major hospitals in the United States. Pneumatic tube systems are used to rapidly send test samples and medications around hospitals and the vulnerable PTS stations are present in 3,000 hospitals worldwide, including 2,300 in the United States.

The vulnerabilities, collectively named ‘PwnedPiper’, were discovered by researchers at Armis Security. In total, 9 critical flaws were identified in the Nexus Control Panel and the firmware of all current models of Translogic PTS stations are affected.

The vulnerabilities identified by the researchers are common in Internet of Things (IoT) devices but are far more serious in pneumatic tube systems, which are part of hospitals’ critical infrastructure. The Armis researchers pointed out that these systems are prevalent in hospitals, yet they have never been thoroughly analyzed or researched.

The flaws could be exploited by a threat actor to cause denial of service, harvest sensitive data such RFID credentials of employees, and to perform reconnaissance to identify the functions or location of the stations and gain an understanding of the physical layout of the PTS network. The vulnerabilities could also be exploited in a ransomware attack.

The flaws include the use of hard-coded passwords, memory corruption vulnerabilities, privilege escalation flaws, unencrypted connections, unauthenticated firmware updates, and remote code execution vulnerabilities. If exploited, an attacker could gain full control of all Nexus stations in a hospital.

“This research sheds light on systems that are hidden in plain sight but are nevertheless a crucial building block to modern-day healthcare,” said Nadir Izrael, Armis co-founder and CTO. “Understanding that patient care depends not only on medical devices, but also on the operational infrastructure of a hospital is an important milestone to securing healthcare environments.”

The researchers detailed a scenario in which the flaws could be exploited to deliver ransomware. First an attacker would need a foothold in the hospital network. This could be as simple as exploiting a vulnerability in a low-grade IoT device such as a hospital IP camera. Once network access is gained, the Translogic PTS could be targeted since it is connected to hospital networks. Any of 5 vulnerabilities could then be exploited to achieve remote code execution in an attack that could see all Nexus stations compromised, either using ransomware or simply shutting down stations.

“In this volatile state, the hospital’s operations can be severely derailed,” said the researchers. “Medications supplied to departments, timely delivery of lab samples, and even blood units supplied to operating rooms all depending on constant availability of the PTS.”

Armis presented the findings at Black Hat USA. Swisslog Healthcare has patched 8 of the 9 vulnerabilities in Nexus Control Panel version 7.2.5.7, with the one remaining vulnerability due to be fixed in an upcoming release. The remaining vulnerability, tracked as CVE-2021-37160, affects legacy systems and is due to the lack of firmware validation during a file upload for a firmware update.

There have been no known cases of the vulnerabilities being exploited. Swisslog Healthcare has suggested mitigations and workarounds in its security advisory for hospitals that are unable to upgrade to the latest version of the Nexus Control Panel.

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The Average Cost of a Healthcare Data Breach is Now $9.42 Million

IBM Security has published its 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Report, which shows data breach costs have risen once again and are now at the highest level since IBM started publishing the reports 17 years ago. There was a 10% year-over-year increase in data breach costs, with the average cost rising to $4.24 million per incident. Healthcare data breaches are the costliest, with the average cost increasing by $2 million to $9.42 million per incident. Ransomware attacks cost an average of $4.62 million per incident.

Source: IBM Security

The large year-over-year increase in data breach costs has been attributed to the drastic operational shifts due to the pandemic. With employees forced to work remotely during the pandemic, organizations had to rapidly adapt their technology. The pandemic forced 60% of organizations to move further into the cloud. Such a rapid change resulted in vulnerabilities being introduced and security often lagged behind the rapid IT changes. Remote working also hindered organizations’ ability to quickly respond to security incidents and data breaches.

According to IBM, data breaches costs were more than $1 million higher when remote work was indicated as a factor in the data breach. When remote work was a factor, the average data breach cost was $4.96 million compared to $3.89 million when remote work was not a factor. Almost 20% of organizations that reported data breaches in 2020 cited remote work as a factor, with the cost of a data breach around 15% higher when remote work was a factor.

To compile the report, IBM conducted an in-depth analysis of data breaches involving fewer than 100,000 records at 500 organizations between May 2020 and March 2021, with the survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute.

The most common root cause of data breaches in the past year were compromised credentials, which accounted for 20% of data breaches. These breaches took longer to detect and contain, with an average of 250 days compared to an overall average of 212 days.

The most common types of data exposed in data breaches were customers’ personal data such as names, email addresses, passwords, and healthcare data. 44% of all data breaches included those types of data. A data breach involving email addresses, usernames, and passwords can easily have a spiral effect, as hackers can use the compromised data in further attacks. According to the Ponemon Institute survey, 82% of individuals reuse passwords across multiple accounts.

Breaches involving customers’ personally identifiable information (PII) were more expensive than breaches involving other types of data, with a cost per record of $180 when PII was involved compared to $161 per record for other types of data.

Data breach costs were lower at companies that had implemented encryption, security analytics, and artificial intelligence-based security solutions, with these three mitigating factors resulting in data breach cost savings of between $1.25 million and $1.49 million per data breach.

Adopting a zero-trust approach to security makes it easier for organizations to deal with data breaches. Organizations with a mature zero trust strategy had an average data breach cost of $3.28 million, which was $1.76 million lower than those who had not deployed this approach at all.

“Higher data breach costs are yet another added expense for businesses in the wake of rapid technology shifts during the pandemic,” said Chris McCurdy, Vice President and General Manager, IBM Security. “While data breach costs reached a record high over the past year, the report also showed positive signs about the impact of modern security tactics, such as AI, automation and the adoption of a zero-trust approach – which may pay off in reducing the cost of these incidents further down the line.”

Security automation greatly reduces data breach costs. Organizations with a “fully deployed” security automation strategy had average breach costs of $2.90 million per incident, compared to $6.71 million at organizations that had no security automation.

Companies with an incident response team that had tested their incident response plan had 54.9% lower breach costs than those that had neither. The average data breach cost was $3.25 million compared to $5.71 million when neither were in place.

The cost of a data breach was $750,000 (16.6%) higher for companies that had not undergone any digital transformation due to COVID-19. Cloud-based data breach costs were lower for organizations that had adopted a hybrid cloud approach, with an average cost of $3.61 million at organizations with hybrid cloud infrastructure compared to $4.80 million for organizations with a primarily public cloud and $4.55 million for those that had adopted a private cloud approach. Data breach costs were 18.8% higher when a breach was experienced during a cloud migration project.

Organizations that were further into their cloud migration plan were able to detect and respond to data breaches far more quickly – on average 77 days more quickly for organizations that were at a mature state of their cloud modernization plan than those in the early stages.

Mega data breaches – those involving between 50 million and 65 million records – cost an average of $401 million per incident, which is more than 100 times the cost of breaches involving between 1,000 and 100,0000 records.

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Report: The State of Privacy and Security in Healthcare

2020 was a particularly bad year for the healthcare industry with record numbers of data breaches reported. Ransomware was a major threat, with Emsisoft identifying 560 ransomware attacks on healthcare providers in 2020. Those attacks cost the healthcare industry dearly. $20.8 billion was lost in downtime in 2020, according to Comparitech, which is more than twice the ransomware downtime cost to the healthcare industry in 2019.

With the healthcare industry facing such high numbers of cyberattacks, the risk of a security breach is considerable, yet many healthcare organizations are still not fully conforming with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) and the HIPAA Security Rule, according to the 2021 Annual State of Healthcare Privacy and Security Report published today by healthcare cybersecurity consulting firm CynergisTek.

To compile the reportThe State of Healthcare Privacy and Security – Maturity Paradox: New World, New Threats, New Focus – CynergisTek used annual risk assessments at 100 healthcare organizations and measured progress alongside overall NIST CSF conformance. 75% of healthcare organizations improved overall NIST conformance in 2020; however, 64% of healthcare organizations fell short of the 80% NIST conformance level considered to be the passing grade. Most of the improvements made in 2020 were only small.

As the graph below shows, 53 healthcare organizations improved NIST conformance year over year, 32 of those were considerably below the 80th percentile and 17 healthcare organizations saw NIST conformance decline year-over- year.

Year-over-Year Improvements in NIST CSF Conformance. Source: CynergisTek State of Healthcare Privacy and Security Report.

In order to improve resilience to ransomware and other cyberattacks, it is essential for healthcare organizations to improve their security posture. It will not be possible to stay one step ahead of threat actors if organizations do not take steps to improve NIST CSF and HIPAA Security Rule conformance.

While good conformance scores are a good indication of security posture, they do not necessarily reflect the extent to which healthcare organizations have reduced risk. For this year’s report, CynergisTek placed less emphasis on conformance scores and assessed the measures healthcare organizations had taken to identify which core functions of the NIST CSF appeared to be really driving long term security improvements, with the goal of identifying the best opportunities for both short- and long-term success.

The Identity function provides the foundation on which the rest of the core functions are based, but 73% of healthcare organizations were rated low performers in this function. Asset management and supply chain risk management were two of the key areas that need to be addressed. The healthcare supply chain is a universal issue and the weak link in healthcare. Many healthcare organizations struggle to validate whether or not third-party vendors meet specific security requirements. 76% of healthcare organizations failed to secure their supply chains.

The Protect function requires safeguards to be implemented to protect critical infrastructure and data. One of the main areas where organizations were falling short is protection of data using encryption. “An organization’s default for storing protected data of any kind and transmitting it should include encryption – it clearly does not”, explained CynergisTek. High performers achieved 90% conformance for protection of data at rest, whereas the rest of the sector was in the low 30th percentile.

In the Detect function, there was a major difference between high and low performers, but overall there were good levels of implementation; however, to be considered a high performer it is necessary to get the detect function substantially implemented and to ensure there is significant automation of security monitoring.

The Respond function concerns an organization’s ability to quickly implement appropriate activities when a cybersecurity event is detected, and this is an area where significant improvements need to be made. Only the highest performers are actively investigating notifications from detection systems, and only high performers were consistently and substantially mitigating incidents.

The recover function identifies activities required to return to normal operations after a cybersecurity incident. While there were gaps among the high performers, conformance was generally very good, but significant improvements need to be made by low performers. Around two-thirds (66%) of healthcare organizations are underperforming in recovery planning.

CynergisTek identified several aspects of security that healthcare organizations need to focus on over the coming 12 months:

  • Improve automation of security functions
  • Validate technical controls for people and processes
  • Perform exercises and drills at the enterprise level to test all components of the business
  • Secure the supply chain
  • Look beyond the requirements of the HIPAA Rules and further enhance privacy and security measures

The researchers found notable improvements had been made in organizations’ HIPAA privacy programs in 2020, with some healthcare organizations making exceptional progress. However, there is still room for improvement. CynergisTek identified several privacy areas that should be focused on in 2021.

These measures include implementing user access monitoring tools and engaging in proactive rather than reactive monitoring, addressing defective HIPAA authorizations, preventing violations of the Minimum Necessary Rule by defining criteria to limit PHI disclosure, updating insufficient privacy policies and procedures and ensuring the new policies are implemented, and addressing inappropriate Hybrid Entity designations.

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The Average Ransomware Payment Fell by 38% in Q2, 2021

The average ransom payment made by victims of ransomware attacks fell by 38% between Q1 and Q2, 2021, according to the latest report from ransomware incident response company Coveware. In Q2, the average ransom payment was $136,576 and the median payment decreased by 40% to $47,008.

Average Ransom Payments by Quarter. Source: Coveware

One of the key factors driving down ransom payments is a lower prevalence of attacks by two key ransomware operations, Ryuk and Clop, both of which are known for their large ransom demands. Rather than the majority of attacks being conducted by a few groups, there is now a growing number of disparate ransomware-as-a-service brands that typically demand lower ransom payments. In Q2, Sodinokibi (REvil) was the most active RaaS operation conducting 16.5% of attacks, followed by Conti V2 (14.4%), Avaddon (5.4%), Mespinoza (4.9%), and Hello Kitty (4.5%). Ryuk only accounted for 3.7% of attacks and Clop 3.3%.

The Sodinokibi gang has now gone silent following the attack on Kaseya and appears to have been shut down; however, the group has shut down operations in the past only to restart with a new ransomware variant. Even if the operators have retired, the affiliates used to conduct the attacks are likely to just switch to an alternative RaaS operation so attack volume may not be affected.

The most common vectors used in attacks has been fluctuating over the past few months. In Q1, 2021 there was an increase in brute force attacks on Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) and the exploitation of software vulnerabilities, with phishing attacks falling. In Q2, RDP compromises and software vulnerability exploits both declined and email phishing increased, with phishing and RDP compromises now equally common. The exploitation of software vulnerabilities is the attack vector of choice for targeted attacks on large enterprises, and those attacks tend to be conducted only by the most sophisticated RaaS operations with large operating budgets that allow them to purchase single day exploits or buy access to large networks.

In Q2, more than 75% of ransomware attacks were on businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees. This is because these smaller companies are less likely to invest in security awareness training for the workforce and email security to block phishing attacks. They are also more likely to expose RDP to the Internet. Smaller businesses are also more likely to outsource security to MSPs. MSPs remain a major target, as an attack on an MSP will allow the attacker to then attack all MSP’s clients.

The report indicates a fall in the effectiveness of double extortion tactics. This is where prior to file encryption, sensitive data are exfiltrated. A demand is issued for the key to decrypt data and a second payment is required to prevent the exposure or sale of stolen data. In Q2, 81% of attacks involved data exfiltration prior to file encryption, up from 76% in Q1.

However, payment to ensure data deletion is now much less likely. In 2020, 65% of victims that were able to recover data from backups paid the attackers to prevent the exposure of stolen data, but in Q2, 2021 the percentage was just 50%.

The most attacked industry sectors in Q2 were the public sector (16.2%), professional services (13.3%), and healthcare (10.8%). Coveware suggests that these industries may not be specifically targeted, instead they are simply the easiest to attack. For instance, the number of attacks on law firms increased but that was largely down to the attack by the Clop ransomware group on Accellion File Transfer Appliances, which were disproportionately used by law firms.

Coveware reports that the average downtime from a ransomware attack declined by 15% in Q2, with victims typically having 23 days of downtime following at attack; however, this was attributed to an increase in data only attacks where there was no material business interruption.

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Cyber Incident Notification Act of 2021 Introduced in the Senate

In June, a bipartisan group of senators circulated a draft federal breach notification bill – the Cyber Incident Notification Act of 2021 – that requires all federal agencies, contractors, and organizations considered critical to U.S. national security to report data breaches and security incidents to the DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) within 24 hours of discovery. On Wednesday this week, an amended bill was formally introduced in the Senate.

The draft bill was introduced by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Susan Collins (R-ME). Another 12 senators across both parties have now added their names to the bill.

The bill seeks to address some of the key issues that have come to light in the wake of recent cyberattacks that impacted U.S. critical infrastructure, including the SolarWinds Orion supply chain attack and the ransomware attacks on JBS and Colonial Pipeline.

“The SolarWinds breach demonstrated how broad the ripple effects of these attacks can be, affecting hundreds or even thousands of entities connected to the initial target,” said Sen. Warner. “We shouldn’t be relying on voluntary reporting to protect our critical infrastructure. We need a routine federal standard so that when vital sectors of our economy are affected by a breach, the full resources of the federal government can be mobilized to respond to and stave off its impact.”

The purpose of the new bill is to ensure timely federal government awareness of cyber intrusions that pose a threat to national security, with the bill enabling the development of a common operating picture of national-level cyber threats.

Security incidents that warrant notifications to be sent to CISA are those that:

  • Involve or are believed to involve a nation state.
  • Involve or are believed to involve an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actor.
  • Involve or are believed to involve a transnational organized crime group.
  • Could harm U.S. national security interests, foreign relations, or the U.S. economy.
  • Likely to be of significant national consequence.
  • Has potential to affect CISA systems.
  • Involve ransomware

Reportable ransomware attacks are those that are assessed to involve a nation state actor, advanced persistent threat (APT) actor, transnational organized crime group, or an attack that has the potential to result in demonstrable harm to national security, foreign relations, the economy of the United States, the public confidence, civil liberties, or public health and safety of U.S. residents.

When reporting a security incident or cyber threat, organizations are required include a description of the incident, detail the systems and networks affected, provide an estimate of when the incident is likely to have occurred, provide information about any vulnerabilities that were exploited, any tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) known to have been used. Actionable cyber threat information will be made available to government and private sector entities and the public to allow prompt action to be taken to counter threats. The bill gives CISA 48 hours to respond to reports of an intrusion and request information about the security incident.

To encourage organizations to report data breaches, the bill includes liability protections for breached entities to protect against potential lawsuits that could arise from disclosing security breaches and allows anonymized personal data to be submitted when reporting breaches.

The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to work with other federal agencies to draw up a set of reporting criteria and to harmonize those criteria with the regulatory requirements in effect on the date of enactment.

The failure to report a security incident to CISA can attract a financial penalty, which will be determined by the Administrator of the General Services Administration. The maximum financial penalty will be 0.5% of gross revenue for the previous fiscal year. Other possible sanctions include removal from federal contracting schedules.

“It is critical that American organizations act immediately once an attack occurs. The longer an attack goes unreported, the more damage can be done. Ensuring prompt notification will help protect the health and safety of countless Americans and will help our government track down those responsible,” said Sen. Rubio.

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June 2021 Healthcare Data Breach Report

For the third consecutive month, the number of reported healthcare data breaches of 500 or more records increased. June saw an 11% increase in reported breaches from the previous month with 70 data breaches of 500 or more records reported to the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights – the highest monthly total since September 2020 and well above the average of 56 breaches per month over the past year.

United States healthcare data breaches in the past 12 months

While the number of reported breaches increased, there was a substantial fall in the number of breached healthcare records, which decreased 80.24% from the previous month to 1,290,991 breached records. That equates to more than 43,000 breached records a day in June.

records Exposed in U.S. healthcare data breaches in the past 12 months

More than 40 million healthcare records have been exposed or impermissibly disclosed over the past 12 months across 674 reported breaches. On average, between July 2020 and June 2021, an average of 3,343,448 healthcare records were breached each month.

Largest Healthcare Data Breaches in June 2021

There were 19 healthcare data breaches of 10,000 or more records reported in June. Ransomware continues to pose problems for healthcare organizations, with 6 of the top 10 breaches confirmed as ransomware attacks. Several healthcare organizations reported ransomware attacks in June that occurred at third-party vendors, with the number of healthcare providers confirmed as being affected by the ransomware attacks on vendors Elekta, Netgain Technologies, and CaptureRx continuing to grow.

The largest healthcare data breach to be reported in June was a phishing attack on the medical payment billing service provider MultiPlan. A threat actor gained access to an email account containing the protected health information of 214,956 individuals.

Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Renown Health were affected by the ransomware attack on the Swedish radiation therapy and radiosurgery solution provider Elekta Inc., That attack is known to have affected a total of 42 healthcare providers in the United States.

Name of Covered Entity Covered Entity Type Individuals Affected Breach Cause Business Associate Involvement
MultiPlan Business Associate 214,956 Phishing attack Yes
Northwestern Memorial HealthCare Healthcare Provider 201,197 Elekta ransomware attack Yes
Scripps Health Healthcare Provider 147,267 Ransomware attack No
San Juan Regional Medical Center Healthcare Provider 68,792 Unspecified hacking and data exfiltration incident No
Renown Health Healthcare Provider 65,181 Elekta ransomware attack Yes
Minnesota Community Care Healthcare Provider 64,855 Netgain ransomware attack Yes
Francisco J. Pabalan MD, INC Healthcare Provider 50,000 Hacking/IT Incident (Unknown) No
Prominence Health Plan Health Plan 45,000 Ransomware attack No
NYC Health + Hospitals Healthcare Provider 43,727 CaptureRx ransomware attack Yes
UofL Health, Inc. Healthcare Provider 42,465 Misdirected email No
Peoples Community Health Clinic Healthcare Provider 40,084 Phishing attack No
Reproductive Biology Associates, LLC and its affiliate My Egg Bank, LLC Healthcare Provider 38,000 Ransomware attack No
Hawaii Independent Physicians Association Business Associate 18,770 Phishing attack Yes
UW Medicine Healthcare Provider 18,389 Hacking/IT Incident (Unknown) Yes
Cancer Care Center Healthcare Provider 18,000 Hacking/IT Incident (Unknown) Yes
Temple University Hospital, Inc. Healthcare Provider 16,356 Hacking/IT Incident (Unknown) Yes
Walmart Inc. Healthcare Provider 14,532 Loss of paper/films No
Discovery Practice Management, Inc. Business Associate 13,611 Phishing attack Yes
Jawonio Healthcare Provider 13,313 Phishing attack No

Causes of June 2021 Healthcare Data Breaches

Hacking/IT incidents dominated the breach reports in June 2021, with ransomware attacks accounting for a large percentage of those breaches. There were 58 reported hacking/IT incidents, in which the protected health information of 1,190,867 individuals was exposed or compromised – 92.24% of all breached records in June. The mean breach size was 20,532 records and the median breach size was 2,938 records.

Causes of June 2021 Healthcare data breaches

There were 9 unauthorized access/disclosure incidents reported that involved the impermissible disclosure of the PHI of 81,764 individuals. The mean breach size was 9,085 records and the median breach size was 5,509 records.

There was one incident reported involving the loss of paperwork containing the PHI of 14,532 individuals, one portable electronic device theft affecting 1,166 patients, and 1 incident involving the improper disposal of 2,662 physical records.

42 hacking incidents involved PHI stored on network servers, most of which were data access and exfiltration incidents involving ransomware. There were 19 email security breaches involving PHI stored in email accounts, most of which were phishing incidents.

Location of breached PHI in June 2021 data breaches

Covered Entities Reporting Data Breaches in June

The breach reports show healthcare providers were the worst affected covered entity type with 53 data breaches. 9 breaches were reported by health plans, and 8 by business associates of HIPAA covered entities. HIPAA-covered entities often report breaches at third party vendors, which can mask the extent to which business associates are being targeted by hackers. Adjusted figures taking this into account show the extent to which business associates are suffering data breaches. There were 36 data breaches reported that involved business associates, as shown in the pie chart below.

June 2021 healthcare data breaches by covered entity type

June 2021 Healthcare Data Breaches by State

There were large healthcare data breaches reported by HIPAA covered entities and business associates based in 32 states. California was the worst affected state with 8 reported breaches, followed by New York with 6.

State No. Data Breaches
California 8
New York 6
Illinois, Pennsylvania, Washington 4
Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Texas 3
Arkansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, Wisconsin 2
Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina 1

HIPAA Enforcement Activity in June 2021

The HHS’ Office for Civil Rights announced one HIPAA enforcement action in June under its HIPAA Right of Access enforcement initiative. The Diabetes, Endocrinology & Lipidology Center, Inc. in Martinsburg, West Virginia was ordered to pay a financial penalty of $5,000 to resolve its HIPAA Right of Access case and agreed to adopt a robust corrective action plan to ensure that patients will be provided with timely access to their medical records. There were no confirmed HIPAA enforcement actions by state Attorneys General in June.

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U.S. Government Launches New One-Stop Ransomware Website

The Department of Justice and the DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) have announced the launch of a new web resource that will serve as a one-stop-shop providing information to help public and private sector organizations deal with the growing ransomware threat.

The new resource – StopRansomware.gov – is an interagency resource that provides guidance on ransomware protection, detection, and response in a single location.

The new resource provides general information about ransomware, including what ransomware is and how it is used by cybercriminals to extort money from public and private sector organizations. Detailed information is provided on how organizations can improve their security posture and defend against attacks, including ransomware best practices, bad practices to avoid, cyber hygiene tips, FAQs, and training material.

The website includes a newsroom with the latest ransomware-related advice, along with alerts from CISA, the FBI, Department of Treasury, and other federal agencies about the ever-evolving tactics, techniques, and procedures used by cybercriminals in their attacks.

Victims of ransomware attacks can report attacks through the website to either the FBI, CISA, or the U.S. Secret Service, with the report of the attack automatically sent to all appropriate agencies to ensure that the incident is investigated, threat information is shared, and steps are taken to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

Organizations are being encouraged to take advantage of the new resource to understand the threat of ransomware, mitigate risk and, in the event of an attack, know what steps to take to limit the harm caused and ensure the fastest possible recovery.

“Cyber criminals have targeted critical infrastructure, small businesses, hospitals, police departments, schools and more.  These attacks directly impact Americans’ daily lives and the security of our nation,” said Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for the Department of Homeland Security. “I urge every organization across our country to use this new resource to learn how to protect themselves from ransomware and reduce their cybersecurity risk.”

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CISA Publishes Guidance for MSPs and SMBs on Hardening Security Defenses

Managed Service Providers (MSPs) are attractive targets for cybercriminals. They typically have privileged access to their clients’ networks, so a cyberattack on a single MSP can see the attacker gain access to the systems of many, if not all, of their clients.

The recent Kaseya supply chain attack showed just how serious such an attack can be. An REvil ransomware affiliate gained access to Kaseya systems, through which it was possible to access the systems and encrypt data of around 60 of its customers, many of which are MSPs. Through those MSP customers, ransomware was deployed on up to 1,500 downstream businesses.

Small- and mid-sized businesses often do not have staff to manage their own IT systems or may lack the skills or hardware to store sensitive data and support sensitive processes. Many turn to MSPs to provide that expertise. It is often more cost effective for SMBs to scale and support their network environments using MSPs rather than manage their resources themselves.

Outsourcing IT or security functions to an MSP introduces risks, which need to be mitigated by SMBs. MSPs also need to implement safeguards to prevent their networks from being accessed and to limit the harm caused to their customers should their perimeter defenses be breached.

On July 14, 2021, The DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) published guidance to help MSPs and SMBs strengthen their defenses to improve resilience to cyberattacks and to limit the harm caused should such an attack succeed.

The CISA Insights report provides mitigations and hardening guidance for MSPs and SMBs, outlining important steps that should be taken to protect MSP network assets and those of their customers to reduce the risk of successful cyberattacks.

The guidance document – CISA Insights: Guidance for Managed Service Providers (MSPs) and Small- and Mid-sized Businessesis available for download here.(PDF)

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