Healthcare industry advised to do more thorough risk analyses

Healthcare organizations see an expanding landscape of uncertainty that has raised concerns among security pros and points to the need for more thorough threat analyses, a study showed.

Risks posed by health insurance and information exchanges, employee negligence, cloud services and mobile device usage has dampened confidence in protecting patient data, the Fourth Annual Benchmark Study on Patient Privacy & Data Security found. The study, released Wednesday, was conducted by the Ponemon Institute and sponsored by data breach prevention company ID Experts.

Despite the concerns, the study showed progress on the security front. The average cost of data breaches for organizations represented in the study fell to $2 million over a two-year period, compared to $2.4 million in last year's report.

In addition the number of data breaches fell slightly. The survey found that 38 percent of the respondents had more than five incidents in the last two years, down from 45 percent last year.

"This coupled with an increase in organizations' level of confidence in data breach detections suggests that modest improvements have been made in reducing threats to patient data," the report said.

At the same time, security pros have been battling a rising number of data breaches caused by criminal activity in and outside an organization. Such breaches accounted for 40 percent of all incidents of data loss compared to 20 percent in 2010, the study found.

Three-quarters of the organizations said employee negligence represented the greatest security risk.

Almost seven in 10 organizations believed the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, increased risks through the establishment of more than a dozen state health insurance marketplaces and the federal government site. The primary concern was insecure exchange of patient information between healthcare providers and government.

Employees using their own mobile device on the corporate network were also a major concern, yet nearly nine in 10 organizations condoned the practice.

While cloud services were also a big concern, 40 percent of the respondents used the cloud heavily, an increase of 32 percent from last year. Services most used included backup and storage, file sharing, business applications and document sharing and collaboration.

Another major area of concern was trusting sensitive patient data to third parties or business associates. Almost three-quarters of the organizations surveyed either had no confidence or were only somewhat confident in these entities.

Overall, the study points to a need for more thorough risk assessments to reduce security concerns, Rick Kam, founder and president of ID Experts, said.

"Whether it's with a business associate or a government entity, they should all be working together to do a risk analysis and understand what the current threats and vulnerabilities are, so they can collectively find ways to mitigate those risks," Kam said.

The survey is based on interviews with senior-level personnel at 91 healthcare providers.

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