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Ten examples of how unpatched systems can cause data breach of ePHI

Ten examples of how unpatched systems can cause data breach of ePHI

Unpatched systems may contain vulnerabilities that attackers could take advantage of, which can pose serious concerns for the security of electronic protected health information (ePHI). Learn more about what is ePHI.

Here are ten instances of how unpatched systems can result in an ePHI data breach:

  1. Exploiting known vulnerabilities:

    Since unpatched systems with known vulnerabilities have not received the necessary security updates to fix the problems, cybercriminals frequently target these systems.

  2. Ransomware attacks:

    Ransomware attacks, in which malicious software encrypts ePHI and renders information unavailable unless a ransom is paid, could be more dangerous on unpatched systems.

  3. Phishing attacks:

    Unpatched email systems could not have the most recent security features, leaving them more open to scams that compromise user passwords or spread malware.

  4. Worm propagation:

    Worms can propagate quickly throughout a network, compromising more systems and possibly resulting in a data breach, making unpatched systems more susceptible to infection.

  5. Unauthorized access:

    The attackers can take advantage of vulnerabilities in unpatched systems to get unauthorized access to ePHI, either directly or through raising their privileges.

  6. Data exfiltration:

    After getting access to an unpatched system, a hacker may be capable of exfiltrating ePHI, leading to a data breach.

  7. Insecure remote access:

    Remote access systems that haven’t been patched may have security holes that allow unauthorized users onto a network that contains ePHI.

  8. Inadequate network segmentation:

    Unpatched switches and routers, for example, may have security holes that allow attackers to get over network segmentation and potentially access ePHI stored on other computers in the network.

  9. Compromised medical equipment:

    Unpatched software on medical devices makes it more vulnerable to attacks, potentially allowing unauthorized access to ePHI stored or processed on the equipment.

  10. Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs):

    Unpatched systems become more vulnerable to APTs, which enable attackers to get continuous access to a network & potentially compromise ePHI.

Systems must be routinely updated and fixed on an ongoing basis in order to protect ePHI and operate in accordance with the statutory Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)‘s¬†Security Rule. By addressing known vulnerabilities, organizations can lower the risk of hacking data and ensure both the safety and confidentiality of sensitive patient data.

There have been several high-profile cyberattacks and ransomware instances that targeted healthcare businesses with unpatched systems, despite the fact that unpatched systems that result in ePHI data breaches might not always be widely reported. These attacks exposed ePHI either directly or indirectly and severely disrupted the delivery of healthcare services.

  1. WannaCry Ransomware Attack (2017):

    The Server Message Block, or SMB, protocol flaw that the WannaCry ransomware attacks in 2017 primarily targeted were unpatched Windows PCs. The NHS, or National Health Service, of the United Kingdom, was severely damaged, necessitating the rerouting of emergency patients and the necessity for numerous medical clinics and hospitals to rearrange appointments. While the main objective of the attack was to encrypt data and demand a ransom, the broad disruption of healthcare services and infrastructure made ePHI potentially insecure. While the main objective of the attack was to encrypt data and demand a ransom, the broad disruption of healthcare services and infrastructure made ePHI potentially insecure.

  2. NotPetya Ransomware Attack (2017):

    Using the same vulnerability as WannaCry, the NotPetya ransomware attack also targeted unpatched Windows PCs. The attack has had a negative impact on numerous businesses, including healthcare providers, worldwide. The attack, which affected numerous hospitals and healthcare institutions in the US and may have put ePHI at risk, targeted Nuance Communications, a company that offers healthcare transcription services.

  3. SingHealth Data Breach (2018):

    SingHealth, Singapore’s largest healthcare provider, was the target of a hack that gave unauthorized individuals access to 1.5 million patient records, including ePHI, and allowed anyone to steal those records. The electronic medical health record (EMR) system of the organization had a vulnerability that the attackers used to get access to the data.

  4. Universal Health Services (UHS) Ransomware Attack (2020):

    The ransomware attack on Universal Health Services, a significant US healthcare provider, affected over 400 locations. As a result of the incident, some hospitals were compelled to reroute patients and use manual record-keeping. While there was no direct proof that ePHI had been revealed, the attackers targeted unpatched vulnerabilities in the organization’s systems, and the incident brought awareness to the danger that unpatched systems pose to healthcare organizations.

Finding specific details on data breaches brought on by vulnerable systems in healthcare organizations often proves difficult. The specifics of the breach’s root cause and the exploited vulnerability are not always made public. Here are a few more examples where hacking medical offices may have involved unpatched systems or vulnerabilities:

  1. Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center (2016):

    The Los Angeles hospital Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was targeted by a ransomware assault that locked its systems and demanded money to unlock the data. In order to get access to their systems, the hospital was forced to pay 40 bitcoins, which at the time were equivalent to approximately $17,000. Despite the absence of solid proof, known vulnerabilities in unpatched systems are regularly exploited by ransomware assaults. The hospital’s systems were shut down for more than a week as a result of this catastrophe, which had an impact on routine business and patient care.

  2. MedStar Health (2016):

    A ransomware attack on Washington, D.C.-area hospital encrypted patient records and other important data. The attack led the organization to temporarily shut down its systems and disrupt its everyday operations, such as patient care, scheduling, and billing. It is thought that the ransomware took advantage of an unpatched JBoss server’s known vulnerability. Even though the firm didn’t say if it paid a ransom, the downtime and recovery operations definitely cost a lot of money.

The examples given illustrate the possible repercussions of unpatched systems in healthcare organizations, including financial losses, operational disruptions, and a detrimental effect on patient care, even though they do not specifically include fines. To minimize the risk of data breaches and preserve compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rule, medical offices have to keep their systems up-to-date and rapidly install security updates. Such occurrences show how important it is to maintain patched and current systems in order to secure ePHI and maintain compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule. Organizations can reduce the risk of data breaches and protect the security and privacy of sensitive patient information by addressing recognized vulnerabilities.

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