Healthcare data breaches on the rise

Healthcare data breaches on the rise

An identity breach report from the risk protection services vendor Constella Intelligence found that the COVID-19 pandemic presented a variety of new ways for bad actors to take advantage of vulnerabilities in the digital ecosystem.  

The 2021 Identity Breach Report noted that, although the healthcare sector did not make up a huge percentage of the analyzed data breaches, the industry did experience a 51% increase in the total volume of records exposed when compared with 2019.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the fragility of our online infrastructure,” said Constella Intelligence CEO Kailash Ambwani in a statement. “As people continue to rely on digital solutions and [work] from home, both companies and individuals must take new precautions to protect themselves from potential threat actors,” Ambwani said.  


For the report, Constella analyzed a significant portion of the more than 8,500 breaches and leakages (representing nearly 12 billion records) it detected in underground marketplaces in 2020.  

It found that almost 60% of data breaches across sectors exposed some form of personally identifiable information, and 72% of these breaches included passwords.  

And consistent with other cybersecurity reports, Constella called 2020-2021 “the year of COVID-19,” with dark markets repeated exploiting the pandemic. This included the sale of vaccine doses for up to $850, as well as fake COVID-19 vaccine certificates, COVID-19 antigen tests and COVID-19 PCR tests.  

The healthcare sector accounted for only 3% of the breaches Constella detected – but its rate of leakage had increased by 51% from the previous year. Ransomware, of course, was a theme throughout the report, with payments to attackers rising 337% from 2019 to 2020.  

“It appears that ransomware groups are getting more hostile and are less likely to restore systems, even when they are paid the ransom,” observed the researchers.

The cyber report came on the heels of a new warning from the security platform Armis, which found vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure used by 80% of major North America hospitals: pneumatic tube systems.  

“Hospitals use this network to transfer various specimens/blood products from all departments to laboratories and operation rooms,” said Ben Seri, vice president of research at Armis, in an email to Healthcare IT News. “A takeover of PTS stations can result in various attacks, including a DoS of the PTS network, a PII information leak, and sophisticated ransomware attacks. These vulnerabilities are dangerous because they ultimately can impact patient care,” he said.  


Healthcare security breaches have regularly hit the headlines over the past few months, with the culprits ranging from shadowy hacking groups to employees snooping in electronic health records.

And the news may only get worse, with many of the factors that left institutions vulnerable – like working from home, telehealth reliance and strained staff members – lingering amidst yet another COVID-19 wave.  


“With every advancement in digital transformation and every new service brought online come new weaknesses that threat actors are ready to exploit, leaving enterprises of all sizes, public institutions, and individuals wondering what they can do to protect their valuable assets,” wrote Constella researchers.

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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