In recent years there has been a slight increase in the security posture of the healthcare industry however, with the increased provider reliance on telehealth since the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study warns that there are a new slate of risks to patient data.
In a report released on Thursday by Security Scorecard and Dark Owl, showed an enormous increase in targeted attacks on telehealth systems.
“The rapid pace at which telehealth applications were rolled out during the pandemic made them attractive targets for cybercriminals,” said Sam Kassoumeh, COO and cofounder of SecurityScorecard in a statement provided to Healthcare IT News.
“Our report findings illustrate that in order for the healthcare industry to protect patient and provider data, vetting and enforcing security protocols around new technology providers remains paramount,” he added.
The increase likely comes as a result of opportunities seen by hackers, ranging from phishing attempts fueled by fear of the crisis to patchy work-from-home security practices.
The SecurityScorecard/DarkOwl report, which examined more than 30,000 healthcare organizations from September 2019 to April 2020, notes that the reliance on telehealth amplifies risk as well.
By reviewing the 148 most-used telehealth vendors according to Becker’s Hospital Review, it logged increased danger to patient data across application security, endpoint security, IP reputation, patching cadence and – to a slightly lesser degree – network security.
“Patients connect with telehealth providers using web-based applications that include structured and unstructured data. With the exponential increase in use of these applications, cybercriminals targeted them more purposefully,” researchers wrote.
Between January and April 2020, DarkOwl researchers noticed a significant upward trend in the number of dark web and deep web results containing mentions of the top 20 telehealth companies.
“The starkest increase in mentions of telehealth keywords was observed from the second to the third week of March, when there was a 144% increase,” according to the report.
Report authors also flagged endpoint security – including medical devices and COVID diagnostic devices – as a major concern.
“These devices enable remote connections between patients and healthcare providers while reducing contact, ultimately helping to limit the spread of COVID-19,” they said. “However … they also create data security and privacy risks as malicious actors attempt to infiltrate the devices to obtain health information.”
The quick shift to the telehealth model is perhaps what sparked such great concern.
“Any time you make a change to an IT environment, you have the potential to increase risk,” said Andy Riley, executive director of security strategy at the managed-security-services vendor Nuspire, in an interview with Healthcare IT News. “When you introduce rapid change, that potential goes up rapidly.”
“Although healthcare professionals may be protecting physical health by using telehealth services, they also need to ensure they are not putting data health at risk instead,” wrote the researchers in Thursday’s report.
“From a dark web perspective, DarkOwl has knowledge of multiple organizations that have been breached during the pandemic that would likely include patient data and/or diagnostic research,” they said. “DarkOwl has also noted an increase in the use of ransomware as a service in 2020 and throughout the pandemic, with the healthcare industry emerging as a notable dark web target.”