Unmasking the Data Breach Epidemic in Healthcare: Top 5 Causes

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The healthcare industry is increasingly falling victim to data breaches. As health records become more digitized and their value skyrockets, cybercriminals are setting their sights on the healthcare sector. In this blog post, we dissect the top 5 causes of data breaches in healthcare, using insights from the 2018 Verizon Protected Health Information Data Breach Report.

1. Insider Threats

A unique aspect of data breaches in healthcare is the significant role of internal actors. The Verizon report reveals that 58% of incidents involved insiders. Healthcare professionals, due to the nature of their work, have extensive access to sensitive data. This access, whether driven by curiosity, convenience, or malicious intent, can lead to substantial data breaches.

Healthcare organizations can counter this risk by implementing stringent access controls, conducting regular audits, and ensuring comprehensive training programs to emphasize the importance of data security.

2. Physical Theft and Loss

Physical theft and loss contribute significantly to data breaches in healthcare. Devices like laptops, flash drives, and even paper documents containing protected health information (PHI) are often misplaced or stolen, leading to unauthorized access to sensitive data.

By implementing secure data handling and storage policies, using full disk encryption on all devices, and providing secure storage facilities, healthcare organizations can mitigate the risk of physical theft and loss.

3. Hacking

Hacking is a major contributor to data breaches in healthcare. Cybercriminals often employ stolen credentials and brute force attacks to gain unauthorized access to systems and data. The use of backdoors or command and control servers (C2) is also common.

Robust cybersecurity measures, including firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and secure authentication methods, can help healthcare organizations protect against hacking. Regular system updates and patches are also crucial to safeguard against known vulnerabilities.

4. Malware and Ransomware

Malware, especially ransomware, is a significant threat to healthcare data security. Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts data and demands a ransom for its release. In healthcare, where timely access to patient data can be a matter of life and death, the impact of ransomware can be catastrophic.

A multi-faceted approach is required to prevent malware and ransomware attacks. This includes the use of antivirus software, email filtering, regular system backups, and employee education about the dangers of phishing emails and other common attack vectors.

5. Human Error

Human error plays a significant role in many healthcare data breaches. This can include misdelivery of sensitive data, disposal errors, publishing errors, and misconfigurations. In the high-pressure healthcare environment, such mistakes can easily occur.

Healthcare organizations can minimize the risk of human error by implementing strict data handling procedures, providing comprehensive training, and considering the use of automated systems to reduce the potential for mistakes.


Data breaches in healthcare can have severe consequences, from financial losses to damage to patient trust and potential harm to patients themselves. By understanding the top causes of data breaches, healthcare organizations can implement effective strategies to protect their sensitive data.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, a combination of technological safeguards, comprehensive training, and robust policies can significantly enhance healthcare data security. For more information on data breaches in healthcare, refer to resources such as the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and the Healthcare Industry Cybersecurity Task Force Report.