Menu
Why would Chinese hackers want US hospital patient data?

Why would Chinese hackers want US hospital patient data?

Medical records data can be a valuable asset, especially in a country where many have no health insurance

The theft of personal data on 4.5 million patients of Community Health Systems by hackers in China highlights the increasing degree to which hospitals are becoming lucrative targets for information theft.

Already this year, around 150 incidents of lost or stolen personal data -- either due to hacking or ineptitude -- have been reported by medical establishments to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In the case of Community Health Systems, hackers stole patient names, addresses, birth dates, telephone numbers and Social Security numbers. They did not steal medical data, Community Health Systems said -- but that data can be the real prize in such breaches.

With its high prices and lack of a centralized health system, the U.S. is a lucrative target because in the right marketplace, health records can be worth a lot of money, said John Halamka, chief information officer of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and chairman of the New England Healthcare Exchange Network.

That's because people without health insurance can potentially get treatment by using medical data of one of the hacking victims.

Halamka, who also runs the "Life as a healthcare CIO" blog, said a medical record can be worth between US$50 and $250 to the right customer -- many times more than the amount typically paid for a credit card number, or the cents paid for a user name and password.

"If I am one of the 50 million Americans who are uninsured ... and I need a million-dollar heart transplant, for $250 I can get a complete medical record including insurance company details," he said.

As long as personal details like age, weight and height are approximately correct -- and with a faked second form of ID -- a person could use the stolen data to convince a hospital they are insured and receive treatment, Halamka said.

The Affordable Care Act is reducing the numbers of uninsured but there remain many Americans who don't have sufficient insurance for various procedures.

The situation is different in a country like the U.K., where the National Health Service assigns a unique ID number that ties patients to centralized medical records.

In the U.S. with its patchwork of health networks and insurance systems, spotting an imposter is more difficult. And moving to a common patient ID system is difficult due to legislation signed into law by former President Bill Clinton that limits what private companies can do with medical records.

To guard against hackers, health care CIOs are investing in security like never before, said Halamka.

"There's nothing like a million-dollar fine to be a wake-up call to enhance security," he said, referring to the maximum $1.5 million fine that can be levied on companies by the Department of Health and Human Services for lax information security.

He advocates an ID system that would be voluntary, like the "Global Entry" system used at U.S. airports to speed immigration checks. In a voluntary system, consumers would need to approve the sharing of their information, which Halamka hopes they would in the interest of preventing the misuse of their information.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com


Follow Us

Join the New Zealand Reseller News newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags securitydata breachhealth careindustry verticalsBeth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Featured

Slideshows

Sizing up the NZ security spectrum - Where's the channel sweet spot?

Sizing up the NZ security spectrum - Where's the channel sweet spot?

From new extortion schemes, outside threats and rising cyber attacks, the art of securing the enterprise has seldom been so complex or challenging. With distance no longer a viable defence, Kiwi businesses are fighting to stay ahead of the security curve. In total, 28 per cent of local businesses faced a cyber attack last year, with the number in New Zealand set to rise in 2017. Yet amidst the sensationalism, media headlines and ongoing high profile breaches, confusion floods the channel, as partners seek strategic methods to combat rising sophistication from attackers. In sizing up the security spectrum, this Reseller News roundtable - in association with F5 Networks, Kaspersky Lab, Tech Data, Sophos and SonicWall - assessed where the channel sweet spot is within the New Zealand channel. Photos by Maria Stefina.

Sizing up the NZ security spectrum - Where's the channel sweet spot?
Kiwi channel comes together for another round of After Hours

Kiwi channel comes together for another round of After Hours

The channel came together for another round of After Hours, with a bumper crowd of distributors, vendors and partners descending on The Jefferson in Auckland. Photos by Maria Stefina.​

Kiwi channel comes together for another round of After Hours
Consegna comes to town with AWS cloud offerings launch in Auckland

Consegna comes to town with AWS cloud offerings launch in Auckland

Emerging start-up Consegna has officially launched its cloud offerings in the New Zealand market, through a kick-off event held at Seafarers Building in Auckland.​ Founded in June 2016, the Auckland-based business is backed by AWS and supported by a global team of cloud specialists, leveraging global managed services partnerships with Rackspace locally.

Consegna comes to town with AWS cloud offerings launch in Auckland
Show Comments