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Unlocked Backdoor to Healthcare Data

First Vendor Intelligence Report reveals average hospital at risk from thousands of vendors lacking minimum security

By Cliff Baker
Cliff Baker
CORL Technologies

The results of the first Vendor Intelligence Report that rates the security level of vendors in the healthcare industry has just been released. The report reveals that the majority of healthcare vendors lack minimum security, which is illuminated by the fact that more than 58% scoring in the “D” grade range for their culture of security. The report also highlights that healthcare organizations are failing to hold vendors accountable for meeting minimum acceptable standards or otherwise mitigate vendor-related security weaknesses.

The average hospital’s data is accessible by hundreds to thousands of vendors with abysmal security practices providing a wide range of services. When healthcare and industry organizations don’t hold vendors accountable for minimum levels of security, these vendors establish an unlocked backdoor to sensitive healthcare data. 

These new findings are critical to addressing the growing number of security incidents at companies attributed to partners and vendors – which increased from 20% in 2010 to 28% in 2012 according to PWC in its “Viewpoint on Vendor Risk Management” (November 2013). Building on this problem, the PWC “US State of Cybercrime Survey” (June 2014) highlights that business partners fly under the security radar: only “44% of organizations have a process for evaluating third parties before launch of business operations” and only “31% include security provisions in contracts with external vendors and suppliers.” 

The Vendor Intelligence Report, which kicks off a new series of studies to be published by the CORL research team, is based on the analysis of security related practices for a sample of over 150 vendors providing services to leading healthcare organizations from June 2013 to June 2014. CORL researchers analyze the people, process and technical practices of these organizations. Leading providers and health plans use CORL to provide risk scorecards and ongoing monitoring of information protection practices of vendors. 

The four key trends and supporting data that emerged from the analysis include:

The Majority Of Healthcare Vendors Lack Minimum Security Practices To Protect Data.

  • Fifty-eight percent of vendors scored in the “D” grade range and 8% scored in the “F” grade range, meaning there is a lack of confidence based on demonstrated weaknesses with their culture of security. In fact only 4% of vendors scored in the “A” high confidence grade range. 16% scored in the “B” moderate confidence grade range and 14% scored in the “C” indeterminate confidence grade range.
  • Even more surprising, healthcare organizations are not holding vendors accountable for meeting even the minimum acceptable standards. Only 32% of vendors have security certifications. Typical certifications include FedRAMP, HITRUST, ISO 27001, SSAE-16, SOC 2 and 3.

Healthcare Organizations Are Unaware Of All The Vendors That Have Access To Their Data.

  • An average hospital’s data is accessible by hundreds to thousands of vendors providing a wide range of services: from business services, consulting, claims processing and education to Electronic Health Record (EHR), healthcare and medical supplies technologies and products to network and security software.

Healthcare Organizations have an Overwhelming Number of Small Vendors to Manage.

  • Over fifty percent of vendors providing services to an average healthcare organization are small to medium sized businesses with less than 1000 employees.
  • According to Symantec’s 2014 Internet Security Threat Report, targeted attacks aimed at Small Businesses accounted for “30 percent of targeted spear-phishing attacks”.

Existing Practices At Healthcare Organizations Do Little To Mitigate Vendor Related Security Weaknesses.

  • Vendor due diligence by healthcare organizations is not aligned with risks. Most healthcare organizations focus due diligence on their largest vendors - yet over half of breaches are attributed to small businesses.
  • In fact most organizations do not have a risk program in place at all and executives are not appropriately made aware of the exposure or efforts to mitigate risk.

“We rely on critical healthcare services provided by partners that have access to PHI. These partners must take greater responsibility for protecting this information. We are looking for methods to assure each other that we protect patient data properly,” said Leo Dittemore, HCISPP and Director of Information Security and Privacy for HealthCare Partners.

“Although the HIPAA Omnibus Rule identifies that the individual actors are responsible in the event of a breach, if it is my organization’s data that is made public, the source does not matter. It was my responsibility to have protected it, so says our customer.  We can no longer rely on the actions of others to keep us off the front page,” said Mark Williams, CISSP, CISA, CRISC, CIPP/IT, GIAC and President of the ISSA chapter in Chattanooga.

Third-party breaches and regulations are increasing drastically in the healthcare industry, but effective third-party security risk management is expensive, time consuming, and resource intensive. CORL is in a unique position to have access to security data across the healthcare vendor ecosystem. We hope to use this information to illuminate gaps and provide recommendations to healthcare organizations and vendors alike that will help improve their risk management processes – and, ultimately, improve their overall security and risk posture.

Cliff Baker
CORL Technologies

Cliff, CEO of CORL Technologies, is an industry leader in healthcare information technology, privacy and security, and has over 17 years of industry experience. He has worked with the nation’s leading healthcare organizations across all sectors of the industry and has served as an executive advisor for key industry affiliations and companies. He is a sought after contributor and speaker for various health IT and information risk management forums, the lead author of the HITRUST Common Security Framework, and author of various IT Risk Management publications.

Cliff is also the founder of Meditology, a leading professional services company specializing in privacy and security for healthcare organizations, and was previously the Chief Strategy Officer for HITRUST and led PricewaterhouseCoopers’ healthcare security practice.

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