The Breach Barometer—published monthly through the joint effort of Protenus and Databreaches.net—provides a fair amount of insight into current types of data breaches.

As noted in the report, the findings are based on information obtained through searching records and releases, not just looking at reports filed with the HHS Office for Civil Rights. By expanding beyond just OCR, the findings provide more insight than would otherwise be readily available.

Continuing the trend from last year, January 2018 saw an average of more than a breach per day, with a total of 37 health data breaches. As usual, hacking incidents and insider issues were the leading causes of the breaches.

Just considering the source of the breach does not tell the whole story, though. As noted in the Breach Barometer, while January saw 12 insider incidents, those incidents only involved 6,805 records, at least according to available figures.

While the number of records that insiders accessed may not have been all that great, the fact that insiders are still inappropriately accessing information is troubling. One breach took more than a year to detect, and that individual reviewed a significant amount of personal information. That incident saw 1,309 records accessed over the course of 15 months. While that amounts to roughly 87 records per month, auditing may have been able to detect such activity. More tools are available in the marketplace to automate at least a portion of the review.

In light of the increasing availability of tools, why are more healthcare organizations not taking advantage of them? Can an argument be made that not using such a tool constitutes insufficient security practices? While that argument may not apply today, the story could be different in the very near future. Regardless of the technology that may be available now, organizations should not be ignoring insider risks.

The second leading cause of January data breaches was hacking, which accounted for 11 of the incidents and impacted 393,766 records. That total was more than 80 percent of the records inappropriately accessed in January. The causes of the hacks included phishing, ransomware and malware. Those causes do not present any surprises. Instead, they emphasize the fact that healthcare remains under attack and no relief is in sight. The high number of records is also consistent with previous reports, since a hacking incident can easily spread across an entire system or eat up large chunks of data.

As with many previous versions of the Breach Barometer, the January report shows a lot of work remains to be done. No organization can feel secure, and ongoing efforts are essential.

While it is unrealistic to expect that a month will ever be breach-free, more can be done to reduce the frequency to less than a breach per day. Increasing security and being aware of requirements are key, and failure to do so could lead to the next HIPAA settlement headline.

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Matthew Fisher

Matthew Fisher

Fisher is the Chair of the Health Law Group at Mirick O'Connell, a law firm based in Worcester, Mass.