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4/21/2015
08:00 AM
Peter Zavlaris
Peter Zavlaris
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Health Insurers’ Digital Footprint Widening Attack Surface

Insurers are ripe targets for attackers since they're efficient concentrators of every kind of data needed for identity theft, credit card and insurance fraud. Here's proof.

The value of healthcare related personally identifiable information (PII) led to a 60% increase in detected incidents in 2014, with financial losses skyrocketing 282% over 2013. Although cyber thieves and nation state actors have differing motives, they share a common appetite for PII and protected health information (PHI). As technology improves and more devices connect more people around the globe, the attack surface for PII and PHI is only getting wider.

Case in point. The recent security breaches and data losses at insurers, including Premera Blue Cross, Anthem, Community Health Services and American Income Life.  Combined, these breaches have impacted the data and identities of about 93 million customers. To put that in perspective, that’s nearly 30% of the US population. This massive number does not even include many smaller, undetected, or undisclosed breaches.

Insurers are ripe targets for attackers since they’re efficient concentrators of every kind of data needed for identity theft, credit card and insurance fraud, and even blackmail. Primarily because their IT systems typically store a broad and deep mix of financial records, PII and PHI.

To assess the risks facing insurance firms, RiskIQ researchers recently conducted an in-depth quantitative survey of the top 41 insurance companies in the US.  We cataloged and examined over 200,000 web assets and 770 individual mobile apps associated with the surveyed insurers.

The results were both compelling and concerning.  Key metrics for the insurers’ websites and web assets showed:

  • 60% were hosted on external, potentially unsecured servers
  • 88% had analytics or tracking services that might be compromised
  • 66% had ad networks connected to their site
  • 100% had a minimum of 6 broken SSL certificates with 20% having over 900 broken certs each, opening to door for man in the middle attacks and domain squatting by phishing websites

 Data from just 770 surveyed mobile apps showed even more potential security risks:

  • An average 18 apps per insurer
  • But 17% of the apps were from unauthorized developers and 72% were found outside of official app stores
  • 50% of the apps required 10 or more permissions - an excessive number that could be leaving customers facing a range of possible security risks

While these findings are not very encouraging, some insurers did present a minimal attack surface to potential security threats. What this data shows is that insurers need to inventory, monitor and bring under security control their expanding digital footprint. Left unchecked, it provides attackers with an effective platform that can be exploited to launch attacks against unsuspecting customers.  

Peter Zavlaris is one of the primary analysts and contributors to the RiskIQ blog, which provides weekly insights on the latest threats and attacks that target companies outside the firewall and put customers at risk. He has held various customer satisfaction positions with ... View Full Bio
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RetiredUser
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RetiredUser,
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4/21/2015 | 1:44:10 PM
Congress Anxious for Change
I've worked in healthcare since 2006 and it's no surprise to see these statistics when stacked up against commercial software companies that I've worked with in the past.  No matter the industry, whether it be financial, government or similar, the folks you think should have the best security practices often don't for reasons spanning cost to lack of subject matter experts as regular resources on their security design and implementation teams. 

Over the years as my interest in security has grown, I've still maintained this is going to always happen and that often the effort that goes into changing the end users is wasted.  Rather, assuming the user will always make mistakes we ought to look to the future and design systems that will do the thinking for the users; truly "fool" proof.  But that isn't always a specifically security-oriented technology or process.  Sometimes you need to innovate in the industry to build into the tech that is used (for healthcare - hospitals and insurance - that could mean vendors like McKesson, GE or platforms used by insurance agencies) need to rethink how they design and code to meet not only the challenge of the cracker but of the "fool". 

At a recent Senate Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security congressional hearing on cyber insurance, Ben Beeson, the Washington-based vice president for cyber security and privacy with Lockton Cos. L.L.C., was heard to respond to a post-hearing interview question to say the hearing was "hugely important for our clients and industry."  He was noted as musing "How do you get industry (companies) to raise its game, to improve its resilience against that type of threat?" He also said "I don't think you can legislate minimum security standards. It's about an approach, a culture. It's very difficult to be prescriptive."  I think he was on the money when he add "Congress would rather see the market try to help solve the problem."  And that, he noted,  "puts the insurance industry in a place perhaps where it didn't expect to be: Congress says, "We want you at the front of the conversation.' " [1] 

And that's it, isn't it?  It's not just about throwing more cybersecurity tech at the problem, but working on the solution from the industry up, and perhaps changing how tech in that industry is done, as well as the fallible processes that drive it. 

[1] Business Insurance, March 25 2015, "Congress seeks solutions on cyber risk that include insurance" by Mark A. Hoffman
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