May’s Healthcare Data Breach Report Shows Some Incidents Took 3 Years to Discover

The May 2017 healthcare Breach Barometer Report from Protenus shows there was an increase in reported data breaches last month. May was the second worst month of the year to date for healthcare data breaches with 37 reported incidents, approaching the 39 data breaches reported in March. In April, there were 34 incidents reported.

So far, each month of 2017 has seen more than 30 data breaches reported – That’s one reported breach per day, as was the case in 2016.

In May, there were 255,108 exposed healthcare records representing a 10% increase in victims from the previous month; however, it is not yet known how many records were exposed in 8 of the breaches reported in May. The number of individuals affected could rise significantly.

The largest incident reported in May was the theft of data by TheDarkOverlord, a hacking group/hacker known for stealing data and demanding a ransom in exchange for not publishing the data. The latest incident saw the data dumped online when the organization refused to pay the ransom.

While April saw a majority of healthcare data breaches caused by hackers, in May it was insiders that caused the most data breaches. Insiders were responsible for 40.54% of data breaches (15 incidents) in May, with 10 the result of insider errors and 5 incidents the result of insider wrongdoing. In total, 39,491 healthcare records were exposed as the result of insiders.

Hacking was the second biggest cause of data breaches, accounting for 35.14% of the month’s reported breaches. As is typical, hacking resulted in the exposure of the most records – 203,394. At least three of those hacking incidents involved ransomware.

This month’s report proved problematic, as several hacking incidents were discovered after data were posted on black market websites, yet it is unclear whether the incidents are genuine as efforts to verify the data proved inconclusive.

Loss or theft of unencrypted devices and physical records accounted for 13.51% of breaches. Those incidents resulted in the exposure of 4,122 records, although it is unclear how many records were exposed in one of the 4 breaches involving theft/loss. The cause of the 10.81% of incidents is still unknown.

Healthcare providers reported 81% of the months’ breaches, followed by business associates (11%) and health plans (8%).

Over the past two months there has been an improvement in the reporting of healthcare data breaches, with more covered entities reporting incidents inside the 60-day limit of the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule. This month 83% of covered entities reported their breaches on time, an improvement from last month when just 66% of breaches were reported within 60 days. One covered entity took 77 days to report a breach while another took 140 days; more than twice the allowable time. The improvement could be due, in part, to OCR’s decision to fine a covered entity $475,000 for the late issuing of breach notifications to patients.

This month’s Breach Barometer report shows that while breach reporting is improving, breach detection remains a problem. April’s breaches took an average of 51 days to detect, whereas in May it took an average of 441 days for healthcare organizations to discover a breach had occurred. Three healthcare organizations took more than three years to discover a breach had occurred. One healthcare organization took almost three and a half years (1,260 days) to discover a breach, another took 1,125 days and one took 1,071 days.

California was once again the worst affected state with 6 breaches, closely followed by Florida with 5 incidents.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.