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Social engineering still a trouble spot for health IT

Health care privacy and cybersecurity are hot topics among industry professionals, and nearly everyone has an opinion on what direction health care will go.

One of the most troubling problems health care organizations face is handling and minimizing the amount of spearphishing attacks. While health care organizations can implement strong technological solutions to protect data, the human element involved in spearphishing attacks makes it a more vexing issue for providers to take on.

Indiana University Center for Law, Ethics, and Applied Research Director Stan Crosley, CIPM, CIPP/US, points to health care’s patient-first mindset as a reason why it is targeted by so many social engineering attacks. Crosley believes companies focusing more on customer and patient service are more likely to suffer from a spearphishing attack than B2B organizations due to the increased focus on satisfying individuals.  

“One of the big pushes for health care is that they are being trained as a service organization. They try and do what they can to make the patient comfortable and to consider all the things that can help this individual,” said Crosley. “Social engineers are smart enough to prey on that training. … There are a lot of entry points for social engineering. The access to the networks is pretty broad and most individuals in the hospitals need access to some level of medical record. You find those points in the organization … and it’s not as difficult to use social engineering to your advantage.”

Education is a useful tool to combat these social engineering attacks. 

“One of the big pushes for health care is that they are being trained as a service organization. They try and do what they can to make the patient comfortable and to consider all the things that can help this individual ... Social engineers are smart enough to prey on that training." —Stan Crosley 

“The health care industry is eventually going to catch up to things like implementing continuous security monitoring and the next generation of firewalls. But at the end of the day, the network is only going to be as secure as the user,” said Security Scorecard Chief Research Officer Alex Heid, whose company covered social engineering issues in their "2016 Healthcare Industry Cybersecurity Research Report." In a phone interview with Privacy Tech, he added, “It’s important that everyone who has access to portions of the network understand what their capabilities are, so having an emphasis on security awareness training among employees will go a long way in preventing targeted-type breaches.”

When implementing training to guard against social engineering attacks, Heid suggests organizations incorporate a variety of strategies. Heid said health care providers should notify their employees about real-life examples of data breaches, inform them about other prevalent tech threats and campaigns currently in use, and the ways they can affect their organizations.

"Another important factor is the importance of password reuse. For the most part, people will still reuse their passwords over multiple platforms. They believe their password is very secure," said Heid, who cited password breaches at LinkedIn and Dropbox as examples. "There are more than two million circulating credentials out in the wild, so if someone’s been reusing their password across these different platforms, they are definitely at risk for an attack."

Heid said there is a relationship between companies struggling with patching cadence, or security patching, and social engineering. He found employees engaging in troubling internet activity were often doing so on outdated technology.

“What we find is when the user is engaging in ‘not-safe-for-work’ activity, they often will have outdated browsers and outdated operating systems,” said Heid. “It’s kind of a lax care of what’s being done online. Oftentimes when there’s an outdated browser and operating system, it makes that system susceptible to a drive-by download attack, or an exploit kit that is all malware, based on visiting a hacked website. A lot of times, those users will also be more likely to open unsolicited attachments.”

“It seems that there’s definitely interest from the right executive levels in the health care industry to invest in these issues,” said Heid. “It’s definitely concerning because it’s essentially a game of catch up between the rapid advancement of medical technologies, and the deployment of medical technologies and the overall information security of the enterprise, customer data and all the technologies that use the data.”

Looking ahead to the future, Heid believes these issues are attracting the attention of the right individuals within health care.

“It seems that there’s definitely interest from the right executive levels in the health care industry to invest in these issues,” said Heid. “It’s definitely concerning because it’s essentially a game of catch up between the rapid advancement of medical technologies, and the deployment of medical technologies and the overall information security of the enterprise, customer data and all the technologies that use the data.”

Crosley agrees with Heid, saying there is broad motivation to improve cybersecurity in health care, but the industry will perpetually be in catch up mode. Crosley also believes there will be rough times ahead.

“I think [hackers] will be able to find the soft spots in the health care industry because some institutions just aren’t funded the way they need to be funded. They are going to find them and these ransomware attacks are going to turn dark, and I really fear that,” said Crosley. “Overall, the industry is really prioritizing both cybersecurity and privacy, and the institutions I work with are really focusing on this. It’s a high hurdle”

photo credit: Christoph Scholz PIN Eingabe, iPad, Tablet via photopin (license)

Written By

Ryan Chiavetta

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