Chinese Hackers Reportedly Access 4.5 Million Medical Records

The headline of a tech startup blog I read pretty regularly caught my attention today, “Another day, another Chinese hack: 4.5M medical records reportedly accessed at national hospital operator“. The title seems to say it all. It’s almost like the journalist sees the breach as the standard affair these days. Just to be clear, I don’t think he thinks breaches are standard in healthcare, I think he thinks breaches are standard in all IT. As he says at the end of the article:

Community Health Systems joins a long list of large companies suffering from major cybersecurity breaches. Among them, Target, Sony, Global Payment Systems, eBay, Visa, Adobe, Yahoo, AOL, Zappos, Marriott/Hilton, 7-Eleven, NASDAQ, and others.

Yes, healthcare is not alone in their attempt to battle the powers of evil (and some not so evil, but possibly dangerous) forces that are hacking into systems large and small. We can certainly expect this trend to continue and likely get worse as more and more data is stored electronically.

For those interested in the specific story, Community Health Systems, a national hospital provider based in Nashville reported the HIPAA breach in their latest SEC filings. Pando Daily reported that “Chinese Hackers” used a “highly sophisticated malware” to breach Community Health Systems between April and June. What doesn’t make sense to me is this part of the Pando Daily article:

The outside investigators described the breach as dealing with “non-medical patient identification data,” adding that no financial data was stolen. The data, which includes patient names, addresses, birth dates, telephone numbers, and Social Security numbers, was, however, protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).

I’m not sure what they define as financial data, but social security numbers feel like financial data to me. Maybe they meant hospital financial data, but that’s an odd comment since a stack of social security numbers is likely a lot more valuable than some hospital financial data. The patient data they describe could be an issue for HIPAA though.

As is usually the case in major breaches like this, I can’t imagine a chinese hacker is that interested in “patient data.” In fact, from the list, I’d define the data listed as financial data. I’ve read lots of stories that pin the value of a medical record on the black market as $50 per record. A credit card is worth much less. However, I bet if I were to dig into the black market of data (which I haven’t since that’s not my thing), I bet I’d find a lot of buyers for credit card data tied to other personal data like birth date and addresses. I bet it would be hard to find a buyer for medical data. As in many parts of life, something is only as valuable as what someone else is willing to pay for it. People are willing to pay for financial data. We know that.

We shouldn’t use this idea as a reason why we don’t have to worry about the security and privacy of healthcare data. We should take every precaution available to create a culture of security and privacy in our institutions and in our healthcare IT implementations. However, I’m just as concerned with the local breach of a much smaller handful of patient data as I am the 4.5 million medical record breach to someone in China. They both need to be prevented, but the former is not 4.5 million times worse. Well, unless you’re talking about potential HIPAA penalties.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.

5 Comments

  • Good question Mark. I haven’t heard those details. Although, I’m pretty sure it was an in house system that was compromised. So, likely client server.

  • Going to happen and going to happen a lot. And for all you smart guys out there think it is bad it security blah blah blah, remember hacking is now a multi billion dollar industry. They have all the latest secutity technology installed and broke down faster then you can get a po to even buy it. Do you really believe overburdened practices and vendors can compete with thee hackers. Get real, no one can. Time we accept the reality data is going to be stolen. Might as well build around that fact!

  • Also client server vs cloud, big company vs small. Old thinking, very outdated. The bigger they are the bigger the fall, but breaches are now common because the scale of hacking is at a unbelievable level. Also running into trouble with that time bomb, Trojan, crypto lock, password grabber, no big deal just call the support chat sites and they will remote in with experts to aide you with your tasks, for a fee. Scary shit, don’t be a stupid techie and think it happens to others. Buy insurance and be ready, you will be breached, most likely.

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