A new study has confirmed that the healthcare industry faces the highest risk of cyberattacks. Healthcare providers and health plans are being targeted by cybercriminals due to the value of patient data on the black market. A full set of medical records, along with personally identifiable information and Social Security numbers, sells for big bucks on darknet marketplaces. Health data is far more valuable then credit cards for instance.

Furthermore, organizations in the healthcare industry store vast quantities of data and cybersecurity protections are still less robust than in other industry verticals.

The survey was conducted by 451 Research on behalf of Vormetric. Respondents were asked about the defenses they had put in place to keep sensitive data secure, how they rated their defenses, and how they planned to improve protections and reduce the risk of cyberattacks occurring.

78% of respondents rated their network defenses as very or extremely effective, with network defenses having been prioritized by the majority of healthcare organizations. 72% rated data-at-rest defenses as extremely or very effective. While this figure seems high, confidence in data-at-rest defenses ranked second from bottom. Only government industries ranked lower, with 68% of respondents from government agencies rating their data-at-rest defenses as very or extremely effective.

Even though many IT security professionals in the healthcare industry believe their network and data-at-rest defenses to be robust, 63% of healthcare organizations reported having experienced a data breach in the past.

The Risk of Cyberattacks Cannot Be Effectively Managed Simply by Becoming HIPAA-Compliant

Many organizations have been prioritizing compliance with industry regulations rather than bolstering defenses to prevent data breaches. Many healthcare organizations see compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as being an effective way of ensuring data are protected.

HIPAA requires all covered-entities – healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, and business associates of covered entities – to implement administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to keep confidential patient data secure. By achieving “HIPAA-compliance” covered entities will improve their security posture and reduce the risk of cyberattacks, but compliance alone will not ensure that data are protected.

One only needs to look at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights breach portal to see that healthcare data breaches are commonplace. Many of the organizations listed in the breach portal have implemented defenses to protect data and are HIPAA-compliant. Compliance has not prevented data breaches from occurring.

The 451 Research survey asked respondents their views on compliance. 68% said it was very or extremely effective at ensuring data were secured. The reality is HIPAA only requires healthcare organizations to implement safeguards to achieve a minimum level of data security. In order to prevent data breaches and effectively manage the risk of cyberattacks, organizations need to invest more heavily in data security.

HIPAA does not, for example, require organizations to protect data-at-rest with encryption. If the network perimeter is breached, there is often little to prevent data from being stolen. Healthcare organizations are focusing on improving network protection but should not forget to protect data-at-rest with encryption. 49% said network security was still the main spending priority over the next 12 months, which was the highest rated security category for investment.

Healthcare organizations did appreciate that investment in technologies to protect data-at-rest was important, with 46% of respondents saying spending would be increased over the next 12 months on technologies such as disk and file encryption to help manage the risk of cyberattacks.