Anthem Breach: Same Failures, Different Day

No one should be surprised that hackers are targeting medical records. Last week cyber security news outlets lit up with news about the Anthem breach involving tens of millions of health insurance records.

How the attackers allegedly gathered the health insurance records is a familiar story. They did so by grabbing credentials and using them to access the data they sought. After that, they essentially ruled the roost.

From the Associated Press this past Friday:

Anthem said this week that hackers stole names, Social Security numbers and other sensitive information for up to 80 million Anthem customers, in a breach that was first detected on Jan. 27. That’s when an Anthem computer system administrator discovered outsiders were using his own security credentials to log into the company system and steal data.

How the attackers came to get in is also a familiar tale. It’s currently widely thought that the breach made headway through a phishing attack. This employees, or insiders, who clicked links or opened attachments unwittingly enabled the attackers to get malware on their endpoints.

Healthcare data records have been targeted heavily in recent years. According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, there have been 1,198 medical related breaches since 2005, with 34,486,933 records exposed. This most recent breach from Anthem (formerly Wellpoint) dwarfs that, itself being currently estimated at over 80 million records.

And of course, last year, Community Health Systems Inc, alledged that Chinese hackers hacked into its systems and made off with  4.5 million patient records.

Attackers focusing on medical records reveals how valuable they have become compared to other forms of information. Credit card data isn’t worth much any more: about $1 each on the black market. However, according to various sources, medical records, even just a portion of an electronic health record, or EHR, goes for $50.

Law enforcement saw this coming. Last spring the FBI issued a warning to the healthcare industry that proved to be quite prescient, as Reuters reported in this story, Exclusive: FBI warns healthcare sector vulnerable to cyber attacks. “The healthcare industry is not as resilient to cyber intrusions compared to the financial and retail sectors, therefore the possibility of increased cyber intrusions is likely,” the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a private notice it has been distributing to healthcare providers, obtained by Reuters.

As long as the economics for EHRs remain favorable for criminals, and the security barriers set up by the healthcare industry remains low, you can expect many more data breaches.


  1. as one of my friends always says: “Same clowns, different circus” 🙂


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