February 2024 Healthcare Breaches

In another banner month for healthcare breaches, the OCR Breach Portal listed 54 incidents affecting 5,056,083 patients. The most affected group was business associates, reporting 9 incidents affecting 3.2 million patients. Although healthcare providers reported 30 incidents, only 1.6 million patients were affected. Health plans also reported 15 incidents, affecting 210,387 patients. We’ll examine what caused February 2024 healthcare breaches and how they could have been prevented.

37 Hacking Incidents Affected 4.9 Million

There were 37 hacking incidents reported in February 2024. These incidents affected 4,946,176, representing 97.83% of patients affected by February incidents.

Who reported hacking incidents, and how many patients were affected?

  • 22 healthcare providers, 1,544,178 patients
  • 9 health plans, 197,511 patients
  • 6 business associates, 3,204,487 patients 

How to Prevent Hacking

As hacking incidents have become the leading cause behind healthcare breaches for several years, minimizing your risk of being targeted is crucial.

Security Risk Assessments and Remediation

Security risk assessments (SRAs) are vital for security and compliance. An SRA aims to identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities in your security practices to prepare yourself against potential threats. Once SRAs have been conducted, it is essential to create remediation plans to address any identified deficiencies.

Employee Cybersecurity Training

A significant portion of hacking incidents results from phishing emails. Employee cybersecurity training is essential to your organization’s overall security posture. Employees should be trained on recognizing phishing attempts and what to do if they suspect an incident has occurred.

16 Incidents of Unauthorized Access or Disclosure

There were 16 incidents of unauthorized access or disclosure reported in February 2024. These incidents affected 104,359, representing 2.06% of patients affected by February incidents.

Who reported these incidents, and how many patients were affected?

  • 7 healthcare providers, 59,754 patients
  • 6 health plans, 12,876 patients
  • 3 business associate, 31,729 patients

How to Prevent Unauthorized Access or Disclosure

As we mentioned, there are two ways in which unauthorized access or disclosures occur – inappropriate employee access or unauthorized access by another entity.

Policies and Procedures and Employee Training

HIPAA policies and procedures are essential to HIPAA compliance as they guide employees on what is appropriate. HIPAA requires employee use and disclosure of PHI to be limited to the minimum necessary to perform their job functions. Your policies and procedures should dictate this, and employees should be trained on the policies and procedures to be aware of their obligations. 

User Authentication, Access Controls, and Audit Controls

To ensure adherence to the minimum necessary standard, you must implement user authentication, access controls, and audit controls. User authentication provides unique login credentials for each employee, while access controls enable administrators to designate different PHI access levels using those unique login credentials. Also, based on the implementation of unique login credentials, audit controls track access to data to ensure that PHI is accessed appropriately by each employee.

February Theft

One healthcare provider reported an incident of theft, affecting 5,548 patients. This incident affected less than 1% of patients affected by February 2024 healthcare preaches.

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