Health-Care Industry Spending More on Security But Not Ready for Cyberattack

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By Alex Ruoff

Nov. 9 — Two-thirds of the nation's health-care provider organizations have experienced some kind of cyberattack in recent years and increased spending on data security hasn't improved the industry's readiness against attacks, according to a survey conducted by HIMSS released Nov. 9.

Most health-care industry executives told HIMSS they've increased their IT security budgets significantly in recent years and taken steps to reduce their risk of experiencing a breach.

However, executives are still unsure whether their organizations are prepared to fend off a cyberattack, according to the survey. The percentage of health-care organizations that were the target of a cyberattack rose by 10 percent from 2014 to 2015.

Most health-care organizations were surprised by how sophisticated and persistent cybercriminals can be, a HIMSS executive said during a Nov. 9 briefing on the survey results.

“I don't think anyone was prepared for the level of cyber threat we're seeing,” Lisa Gallagher, vice president of technology solutions for the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, said. “What we saw in the most recent attacks made a lot of us rethink how secure our systems are.”

Gallagher spoke at HIMSS’s Mobile Health and Cybersecurity summit near Washington.

For the survey, HIMSS polled security executives with 297 different health-care provider companies.

HIMSS has been conducting security surveys with health-care companies since 2008, Gallagher said. The most recent survey was the first focused solely on cybersecurity, she said.

Cyberattacks on health insurers Anthem and Premera earlier in 2015 have many health-care organizations worried they'll be next, Gallagher said.

Survey Results

The survey found that more health-care companies than ever are preparing for cyberattack. Nearly 90 percent said information security had become a critical business priority for them.

In 2008, 75 percent of health-care companies surveyed by HIMSS said they'd conducted a security risk assessment to analyze their IT vulnerabilities. A risk assessment is commonly considered a significant first step in cybersecurity.

In 2015, more than 90 percent of health-care companies surveyed by HIMSS said they'd conducted a security risk assessment.

However, the majority of health-care executives also said they need new tools to combat the rising cyberthreat. Eighty-one percent of executives said they need “more innovative and advanced tools” to combat the security threats they face.

FBI Warning

Federal investigators also warned Nov. 9 that cybercriminals are increasingly using sophisticated techniques to gain access to health-care organizations’ IT systems.

Hackers are “doing their homework” on senior personnel before launching phishing attacks or other campaigns aimed at accessing the troves of personal data health-care companies store, Donald Good, deputy director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, said at the cybersecurity summit.

These more targeted attacks can be harder to detect and are resulting in larger and larger breaches of data, he said.

“The threat actors we’re faced with today are very, very smart,” Good said. “They do a lot of homework before they decide who to hack.”

Good said the FBI believes many of the larger breaches at health-care organizations were likely caused by nation states rather than independent criminals or terrorists.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kendra Casey Plank at


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