A Cyber Thief? Oh my, I know that face!

By Justin Buren, OPRA Member

While serving as Director of the FBI in 2012, Robert S. Mueller, III famously noted that “there are only two types of businesses:  Those who have been hacked and those who will be.” Scarcely a year later, the Target credit card scandal rocked the nation, followed by a chain of data breaches that continues today – with healthcare a primary target.

Recently, the Buren Insurance Group, Inc. commissioned the development of a cyber risk assessment survey, geared for small to medium size organizations.  The 20-point survey (available on this website or by typing in hipaa.opra.org/quiz/cyber-risk-exposer) emerged from our own experience with incidents involving clients we serve.

Justin Buren

That’s right.  Far from the high publicity hackings at organizations such as Anthem and CVS, incidents we see here in central Ohio are among the small, barely-known breaches that are most prevalent of all throughout the United States.

In one of our experiences, a CFO’s email address was fraudulently used to trick his assistant into issuing a $25,000 check.  The assistant issued the payment without a second thought, because by every indicator, the request had come from her boss – from his email address, and even in his writing style!

In another incident, a nurse brought her teenager along on a home visit arranged by her employer.  The 18-year-old “kid” stole information contained in a manila folder on the kitchen counter top of the home.  Just enough info to open a credit card – and finance a fraudulent shopping spree.

Under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), healthcare providers, including those in the I/DD sector, are required to meet very specific privacy regulations.  Full compliance with HIPAA indeed reduces the risk of penalties or civil liability.

However, that doesn’t stop hackers from trying, and sometimes succeeding.  Even during a period when aggressive enforcement of HIPAA has elevated awareness of privacy obligations, breaches of protected health information (“PHI”) escalated by 25 percent last year over 2016 – with email and network servers identified as common points of unauthorized entry.

The reality of cyber crime?  It is typically about somebody – often an insider — gaining access to the kind of private health information that employees pull up every day on their computers.  That then opens the door to fraud.

As the keeper of private health information, you are accountable for preventing unauthorized exposure to the best of your ability.

Questions to ask yourself include:

Are you meeting requirements to reasonably protect the information entrusted to your organization?

Are you reducing risk to the greatest extent possible?

There is no fool-proof plan of protection.  The best you can do is to look inward within your organization, to intelligently assess and mitigate risk.

But above all, avoid the fool-ish plan, which is to assume that this stuff just happens when far-away crooks pull off big heists that make news and create multi-million-dollar headaches for mega organizations.

Think instead about the administrative assistant who unwittingly wrote a $25,000 check to a thief.  Or the lady who left too much information on her counter top when the home nurse came to visit.


About the authorJustin Buren is a member of the Ohio Provider Resource Association and a preferred vendor partner. He focuses on risk management, safety, and insurance for providers.

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