October 2018 Healthcare Data Breach Report

Our October 2018 healthcare data breach report shows there has been a month-over-month increase in healthcare data breaches with October seeing more than one healthcare data breach reported per day.

31 healthcare data breaches were reported by HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates in October – 6 incidents more than the previous month. It should be noted that one breach at a business associate was reported to OCR as three separate breaches.

Healthcare Data Breaches (by Month)

The number of breached records in September (134,006) was the lowest total for 6 months, but the downward trend did not continue in October. There was a massive increase in exposed protected health information (PHI) in October. 2,109,730 records were exposed, stolen or impermissibly disclosed – 1,474% more than the previous month. In October, the average breach size was 68,055 records and the median was 4,058 records.

Healthcare Data Breaches (records exposed by month)

Largest Healthcare Data Breaches in October 2018

There were 11 healthcare data breaches of more than 10,000 records reported in October – A 120% increases from the five 10,000+ record breaches in September. The largest healthcare data breach in October resulted in the exposure of 1.24 million records: An unauthorized access/disclosure incident at Employees Retirement System of Texas. A flaw in its ERS Online portal allowed members to view the PHI of other members.

566,217 records were exposed in a breach at Banker’s Life, a division of CNO Financial Group Inc., also an unauthorized access/disclosure incident. Employee credentials were stolen and used to gain access to company websites, resulting in the exposure and potential theft of policyholder and applicant information.

Rank Name of Covered Entity Covered Entity Type Individuals Affected Type of Breach
1 Employees Retirement System of Texas Health Plan 1248263 Unauthorized Access/Disclosure
2 CNO Financial Group, Inc. Health Plan 566217 Unauthorized Access/Disclosure
3 Health First, Inc Healthcare Provider 42000 Hacking/IT Incident
4 Jones Eye Center, P.C. Healthcare Provider 39605 Hacking/IT Incident
5 Gold Coast Health Plan Business Associate 37005 Hacking/IT Incident
6 The May Eye Care Center Healthcare Provider 30000 Hacking/IT Incident
7 CJ Elmwood Partners, L.P. Healthcare Provider 22416 Hacking/IT Incident
8 Minnesota Department of Human Services Health Plan 20800 Hacking/IT Incident
9 Catawba Valley Medical Center Healthcare Provider 20000 Hacking/IT Incident
10 National Ambulatory Hernia Institute Healthcare Provider 15974 Hacking/IT Incident

Causes of October 2018 Healthcare Data Breaches

Unauthorized access/disclosure breaches resulted in the highest number of compromised records, but hacking/IT incidents were more common in October.  October saw 16 hacking/IT incidents reported, 11 unauthorized access/disclosure incidents, and four theft incidents. There were no reports of lost PHI/ePHI and no improper disposal incidents.

Causes of October 2018 Healthcare Data Breaches

Healthcare Records Exposed by Breach Cause

Healthcare records Exposed by Breach Cause (October 2018)

Location of Breached Protected Health Information

Phishing is arguably the biggest cyber threat faced by healthcare organizations and October saw many phishing attacks reported by healthcare providers. In October, there were 9 incidents involving PHI exposure via email. There were also 9 network server-related breaches, which included hacks, malware, and ransomware attacks.

October 2018 Healthcare data Breach report - Location of Breached PHI

Data Breaches by Covered-Entity Type

In terms of the number of incidents, healthcare providers were the worst hit by data breaches in October with 20 reported breaches, followed by health plans/health insurers with 7. Four HIPAA business associate breaches were reported, three of which were by the same business associate – HealthFitness. One further breach had some business associate involvement.

In terms of the number of exposed records, health plans/insurers fared worse than other HIPAA-covered entities. 1,848,235 healthcare records were exposed at health plans/insurers, 221,994 healthcare records were exposed in healthcare provider breaches, and 39,501 records exposed by business associates.

October 2018 Healthcare Data Breaches by entity type

Healthcare Data Breaches by State

Texas was worst affected by healthcare data breaches in October. 5 breaches were reported by covered entities/business associates based in Texas. California, Connecticut, Illinois, and Washington each had 3 breaches reported. There were two breaches reported in each of Florida, Iowa, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Oregon had one breach apiece.

Penalties for HIPAA Violations in October

After a period of quiet on the HIPAA penalty front, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights announced three settlements in September related to filming patients without consent. There was just one HIPAA violation penalty issued by OCR in October, but it dwarfed all others.

The Anthem Inc., HIPAA violation penalty was expected, and given the scale of the breach (78.8 million records), the penalty was likely to be large. After assessing the extent of HIPAA violations, the scale of the breach, and its impact, OCR fined Anthem $16,000,000. The previous largest ever HIPAA penalty was $5,550,000 (Advocate Health Care Network, 2016)

In October, a multi-state action against the health insurer Aetna was concluded and settlements were reached to resolve the HIPAA violations. The penalties related to the impermissible disclosure of 13,160 plan members’ HIV/AIDS diagnoses via a mailing. Settlements were reached with Connecticut, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia totaling $640,170. Washington was also part of the multi-state action, but the settlement amount has not yet been decided.

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.