New research shows risk in healthcare supply chain

Exposures and cybersecurity challenges can turn out to be costly, according to statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 861 breaches of protected health information have been reported over the last 24 months.

healthcare supply chain

New research from RiskRecon and the Cyentia Institute pinpointed risk in third-party healthcare supply chain and showed that healthcare’s high exposure rate indicates that managing a comparatively small Internet footprint is a big challenge for many organizations in that sector.

But there is a silver lining: gaining the visibility needed to pinpoint and rectify exposures in the healthcare risk surface is feasible.

Key findings

The research and report are based on RiskRecon’s assessment of more than five million of internet-facing systems across approximately 20,000 organizations, focusing exclusively on the healthcare sector.

Highest rate

Healthcare has one of the highest average rates of severe security findings relative to other industries. Furthermore, those rates vary hugely across institutions, meaning the worst exposure rates in healthcare are worse than the worst exposure rates in other sectors.

Size matters

Severe security findings decrease as employees increase. For example, the rate of severe security findings in the smallest healthcare providers is 3x higher than that of the largest providers.

Sub sectors vary

Sub sectors within healthcare reveal different risk trends. The research shows that hospitals have a much larger Internet surface area (hosts, providers, countries), but maintain relatively low rates of security findings. Additionally, nursing and residential care sub-sector has the smallest Internet footprint yet the highest levels of exposure. Outpatient (ambulatory) and social services mostly fall in between hospitals and nursing facilities.

Cloud deployment impacts

As digital transformation ushers in a plethora of changes, critical areas of risk exposure are also changing and expanding. While most healthcare firms host a majority of their Internet-facing systems on-prem, they do also leverage the cloud. We found that healthcare’s severe finding rate for high-value assets in the cloud is 10 times that of on-prem. This is the largest on-prem versus cloud exposure imbalance of any sector.

It must also be noted that not all cloud environments are the same. A previous RiskRecon report on the cloud risk surface discovered an average 12 times the difference between cloud providers with the highest and lowest exposure rates. This says more about the users and use cases of various cloud platforms than intrinsic security inequalities. In addition, as healthcare organizations look to migrate to the cloud, they should assess their own capabilities for handling cloud security.

The healthcare supply chain is at risk

It’s important to realize that the broader healthcare ecosystem spans numerous industries and these entities often have deep connections into the healthcare provider’s facilities, operations, and information systems. Meaning those organizations can have significant ramifications for third-party risk management.

When you dig into it, even though big pharma has the biggest footprint (hosts, third-party service providers, and countries of operation), they keep it relatively hygienic. Manufacturers of various types of healthcare apparatus and instruments show a similar profile of extensive assets yet fewer findings. Unfortunately, the information-heavy industries of medical insurance, EHR systems providers, and collection agencies occupy three of the top four slots for the highest rate of security findings.

“In 2020, Health Information Sharing and Analysis Center (H-ISAC) members across healthcare delivery, big pharma, payers and medical device manufacturers saw increased cyber risks across their evolving and sometimes unfamiliar supply chains,” said Errol Weiss, CSO at H-ISAC.

“Adjusting to the new operating environment presented by COVID-19 forced healthcare companies to rapidly innovate and adopt solutions like cloud technology that also added risk with an expanded digital footprint to new suppliers and partners with access to sensitive patient data.”

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