Posts Tagged data encryption

Top 10 Healthcare Data Breaches in 2010

Posted by on Monday, 6 June, 2011

Most data breaches are caused by simple acts of carelessness.

Last March the Ponemon Institute released its findings for the 2010 Annual Study: U.S. Cost of a Data Breach. The study — based on the actual data breach experiences of 51 U.S. companies from 15 different industry sectors — revealed that data breaches grew more costly for the fifth year in a row. They jumped from $204 per compromised record in 2009 to $214 in 2010.

The increase in cost, however, pales in comparison to the reputational cost of companies that have been victimized, particularly in the healthcare sector.

HITECH builds Wall of Shame

Consider that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has begun posting the data breaches affecting 500 or more individuals as required by section 13402(e)(4) of the HITECH Act.  The New York Times has labeled this site “The Wall of Shame”.  Why? Because if patients have no faith in electronic record-keeping, the future of healthcare record automation will be jeopardized: Law suits and government regulation will bury any cost-savings.

The Back Stories of Healthcare Data Breaches

What are the stories behind the most severe healthcare sector data breaches reported in 2010?  Here are the ten most expensive stories, in ascending order of cost, documented in the Privacy Rights Clearing House database. While they’re sober reminders of the problem of keeping data secure, they’re also instructive: none of these breaches were malicious hacks, but were instead the results of theft, poor record-keeping policies, and simple human error.

(Note that the estimate of liability uses the $214/ record cost identified by the Ponemon Institute in its annual report. We have purposely not published the names of the reporting institutions.)

10th Most Expensive: Physician Computer Theft Exposes 25,000

On June 29th of 2010 a thief stole four computers from a physician specialist’s office in Fort Worth, Texas.  This theft resulted in an estimated 25,000 patient records being exposed.  The patient records contained addresses, Social Security numbers and dates of birth. Estimated liability: $5,350,000.

9th: Medical Center Theft Exposes 39,000

On the weekend of May 22nd, 2010 two computers were stolen from a medical center in the Bronx. Names, medical record numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, insurers, and hospital admission dates of patients were known to be on the computers.  Total records compromised: 39,000. Estimated liability: $8,346,000.

8th: Optometrist’s Computer Theft Exposes 40,000

A computer stolen from an Optometry office in Santa Clara, California on Friday April 2nd, 2010 contained patient names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, birth dates, family member names, medical insurance information, medical records, and in some cases, Social Security numbers. Though the files were password protected, they were not encrypted.  A total of 40,000 records were lost, with an estimated liability of $8,560,000.

7th: Medical Records Found at Dump Expose 44,600

Medical records were found at a public dump in Georgetown, Massachusetts on August 13th, 2010. The records contained names, addresses, diagnosis, Social Security numbers, and insurance information. A medical billing company that had worked for multiple hospitals was responsible for depositing the records at the dump. The exposure required the hospitals to notify patients – an effort that continues to this date.  The total number of records known to have been exposed is 44,600, but the search continues.  Estimated liability: $9,544,400.

6th: Consultant Laptop Stolen Exposing 76,000

On March 20th, 2010, in Chicago, Illinois, a contractor working for a large dental chain found his laptop stolen.  The computer held a database containing the personal information of approximately 76,000 clients, including first names, last names and Social Security numbers. Estimated liability: $16,264,000.

5th: Lost CDs Expose 130,495

On June 30th, 2010 a medical center in the Bronx reported that it had failed to receive multiple CDs containing patient personal information that was sent to it by its billing associate.  These CDs were lost in transit. Information of 130,495 patients included the dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, descriptions of medical procedures, addresses, and Social Security numbers.  Estimated liability of $27,925,930.

4th: Portable Hard Drive Theft Exposes 180,111

In Westmont, Illinois, a medical management resources company reported on May 10, 2010 that a portable hard drive had been stolen after a break-in.  The company believes the hard drive contained personally identifiable information about patients including name, address, phone, date of birth, and Social Security number. The company acknowledged that this hard drive had no encryption.  As a result, 180,111 records were exposed, creating an estimated liability of $38,543,754.

3rd: Leased Digital Copier Leaks 409,262

On April 10th, 2010 a New York managed care service in the Bronx reported that it was notifying 409,262 current and former customers, employees, providers, applicants for jobs, plan members, and applicants for coverage that their personal data might have been accidentally leaked through a leased digital copier. The exposure resulted because the hard drive of the leased digital copier had not been erased when returned to the warehouse. Estimated liability: $87,582,068.

2nd: Training Center Hard Drive Theft Center Exposes 1,023,209

The theft of 57 hard drives from a medical insurance company’s Tennessee training facility in October of 2010 put at risk the private information of an estimated 1,023,209. customers in at least 32 states. The hard drives contained audio files and video files as well as data containing customers’ personal data and diagnostic information, date of birth, and Social Security numbers, names and insurance ID numbers. That data was encoded but not encrypted. Estimated liability to date: $218,966,726.

Most Expensive of 2010: Two Laptops Stolen Exposes 860,000

A Gainsville, Florida health insurance company reported in November of 2010 that two stolen laptops contained the protected information of 1.2 million people.  This is an on-going story, as new estimates are calculated.  To date, the estimated liability is $256,800,000.

Preventing Exposure: Data Encryption

These cases document that the majority of the data breaches which occurred in 2010 were not the result of hacking activities, or even unauthorized access by personnel. The greatest data losses were simply the result of computer theft of portable devices and misplaced media.  Had the contents of the files been encrypted, this could have significantly reduced the risks and liabilities of these data losses.

Time and time again, industry experts point to data encryption as the key method by which organizations can prevent inadvertent exposure of sensitive data.

Of course, no healthcare organization wants to be listed on the US Department of Health and Humans Services’ Wall of Shame.  And the costs – in dollars and in reputation – can be extraordinary.

Isn’t it about time your management got serious about data encryption?

Thomas Stockwell

Thomas M. Stockwell is one of Linoma Software's subject matter experts and a top blogger in the industry. He is Principle Analyst at IT Incendiary, with more than 20 years of experience in IT as a Systems Analyst, Engineer, and IS Director.

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Dealing with the HITECH Requirements of HIPAA

Posted by on Monday, 7 February, 2011

Last November, six hospitals and one nursing home were fined in California for data security breaches related to patient healthcare records. The total fines were $792,500 by the California Attorney General. The cause? The facilities failed to prevent unauthorized access to confidential patient medical information.

While these breaches made headline news in California, they were but the tip of the iceberg of the total healthcare record breaches in 2010. According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, there were 592 reported healthcare data security breaches last year, which potentially exposed more than 11.5 million records. This was double the breaches of healthcare facilities in 2009, opening severe liabilities to the organizations that housed those patient records.

So what now? If your organization can be fined for failing to prevent unauthorized access, how can you safeguard your company’s healthcare records?

HITECH – What is it?

Subtitle D of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act), enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, extended the complete Privacy and Security Provisions of HIPAA to business associates of covered entities. This includes the extension of newly updated civil and criminal penalties to business associates.  On November 30, 2009, the regulations associated with the new enhancements to HIPAA enforcement took effect.

What’s it mean? If your company merely does business with an organization that is involved with healthcare records, HITECH says that you are liable for any security breaches on your watch that reveal patient vital healthcare information. This could include things like names, addresses, social security and Medicare/Medicaid numbers, or any info that could lead to misuse of healthcare information.

So how can your company protect itself from this liability?

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) interim Security Rule says that “a covered entity must consider implementing encryption as a method for safeguarding electronic protected health information.” The DHHS rule does permit something called “comparable methods” in lieu of encryption, but it does not specify what those methods might be.

Encryption vs. Comparable Methods: The Vague Alternatives

To determine if your company can provide security through some so-called “comparable method” it’s important to look at the types of breaches that occurred in the past. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse provides a good free search service to investigate at http://www.privacyrights.org.

By looking through the types of breaches that occurred in 2010, (stolen laptops, doctors emailing records to their home computers, lost or missing flash drives, unauthorized browsing by employees), the first question that you should be asking is “Can our organization really secure all those potential mechanisms for data theft without relying upon encryption?” It’s a difficult task, and the resources that your organization will expend (hardware solutions, policy solutions, etc.) can be significant.

Still, the monetary fines for failing to provide adequate protection are severe, and your management may decide that a thorough review of your security will be required.

By comparison, implementing encryption technology like Crypto Complete – is undoubtedly a faster and more cost-effective means. Crypto Complete encrypts sensitive data at the source using integrated key management, complete with auditing, field encryption and backup encryption, without interrupting the normal IT workflow. Data encryption permits the source of information itself to be put under a lock and key, and once encrypted, that data is protected from both unlawful use and the HITECH liability rule.

Now is the Time

Finally, consider the downside of ignoring the HITECH rules? Take a look at one attorney’s perspective “Responding to an Electronic Medical Records Security Breach: What Every Health Care Provider Needs to Knowto get a handle on the steps for determining the scope of the law. You’ll be surprised at how comprehensive the requirements have become, and why your management should be concerned.

Encrypting your data is the most recognized, safest and least expensive means of protecting your organization from liability from unauthorized access. If you’ve been to putting off addressing the potential pitfall of unauthorized access to your data, now is the time to investigate.

Thomas Stockwell

Thomas M. Stockwell is one of Linoma Software's subject matter experts and a top blogger in the industry. He is Principle Analyst at IT Incendiary, with more than 20 years of experience in IT as a Systems Analyst, Engineer, and IS Director.

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