Cybercrime in healthcare sector growing, Intel warns

Cyber crimeThe “business of cybercrime” in the health care sector is growing, Intel Security warned in its McAfee Labs Health Warning report.

“In an industry in which the personal is paramount, the loss of trust could be catastrophic to its progress and prospects for success,” said Raj Samani, Intel Security’s CTO for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

“Given the growing threat to the industry, breach costs ought to be evaluated in the Second Economy terms of time, money, and trust—where lost trust can inflict as much damage upon individuals and organizations as lost funds,” he added.

Intel Security found that the price per record for stolen patient medical records remains lower than financial account records and retail payment account information.

This finding gains significance given that price is increasingly time-sensitive, or perishable, nature of data such as credit and debit card numbers.

In recent years, Intel Security has observed the cybercriminal community extend its data theft efforts beyond financial account data to medical records.

Although credit and debit card numbers can be canceled and replaced quickly, this is not the case for protected health information (PHI) that does not change, the cyber security service provider said.

This “nonperishable” PHI could include family names, mothers’ maiden names, social security or pension numbers, payment card and insurance data, and patient address histories.

But, though this dynamic has led to industry speculation that the price per medical record could soon rise to rival or even eclipse that of financial account or payment card data, Intel Security’s 2016 research did not illustrate such price-point movement.

Intel Security’s research found the average health record price point to be greater than that of basic personally identifiable information, but still less than that of personal financial account data.

The per record value of financial account data ranged from $14.00 to $25.00 per record, credit and debit cards drew around $4.00 to $5.00, but medical account data earned only from $0.03 to $2.42.

The findings suggest financial account data continues to be easier to monetize than personal medical data, which could require an investment that financial payment data does not require.

Upon stealing a cache of medical records, it is likely cybercriminals must analyze the data, and perhaps cross-reference it with data from other sources before lucrative fraud, theft, extortion, or blackmail opportunities can be identified.

Financial data, therefore, still presents a faster, more attractive return-on-investment (ROI) opportunity for cybercriminals.

“Liquidity trumps longevity in the race to monetize stolen data,” said Raj Samani. “If I steal a million credit or debit card numbers, I can quickly sell this digital merchandise before banks and retailers discover the theft and cancel these numbers. Alternatively, a million medical records contain a rich cache of permanent PHI and personal histories, but such data requires a greater investment of time and resources to exploit and monetize it.”

Attack on Intellectual Property and Business Confidential Data

Intel Security’s research also investigated the targeting of biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms for their intellectual property and business confidential information.

The researchers suggest that the economic value of such information is considerably higher than the cents-per-record data Intel Security’s researchers identified within patients’ health care accounts.

Intel Security researchers found evidence that formulas for next-generation drugs, drug trial results, and other business confidential information constitutes significant value. The stores of such data at biopharmaceutical companies, their partners, and even government regulators who are involved in bringing new drugs to market have become a premium target of cybercriminals.


Intel Security also identified cybercriminals leveraging the cybercrime-as-a-service market to execute their attacks on health care organizations.

Researchers found evidence of the purchase and rental of exploits and exploit kits to enable the system compromises behind health care data breaches.

The researchers also observed brazen efforts by cybercriminals, through online ads and social media, to recruit into their ranks health care industry insiders with access to valuable information.

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