Each month, we review healthcare breaches posted on the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) online breach portal to determine the leading causes and how the incidents could have been prevented. The OCR publicly posts healthcare breaches that affected 500 or more individuals to ensure that all affected patients know their information could have been potentially compromised.

At least 6,904,441 records containing patients’ protected health information (PHI)  were breached in November 2022. After a one-month hiatus, Hacking/IT incidents reclaimed their usual place as the cause of the most significant amount of PHI breached in November 2022, with more than 5,374,670 records.

In November 2022, there were 49 large-scale breaches reported, 26 of which affected healthcare providers. These incidents compromised the PHI of 4,071,158 individuals, representing 59% of patients affected by the November incidents. 

Business associates reported 17 additional incidents that affected 46,216 patients, representing 40.4% of patients affected. 

Six health plans also reported incidents affecting 710,861 patients, representing 0.4% of affected patients. 

Hacking incidents were responsible for 40 breaches reported in November 2022. There were eight breaches caused by unauthorized access or disclosure of PHI and one incident involving theft of PHI.

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November 2022 Healthcare Breaches and Hacking

Cybercriminals are still busy as hacking continued its streak at the top of the list of causes of healthcare breaches in November 2022. The 40 hacking incidents reported in November affected the PHI of 5,374,670 patients. These 53 incidents represented 77.9% of all documented records breached during the month.

Entities affected by hacking:

  • 22 healthcare providers, 2,558,625 patients, 47.6% of patients affected by hacking
  • 14 business associates, 2,779,310 patients, 51.7% of patients affected by hacking
  • 4 health plans, 36,735 patients, 0.7% of patients affected by hacking

Types of hacking incidents:

  • 33 hacks of network servers and other reasons, 5,306,631 patients, 98.8% of patients affected by hacking
  • 5 email hacks, 46,067 patients, 0.8% of patients affected by hacking
  • 1 laptop, 12,000 patients, 0.2% of patients affected by hacking
  • 1 EMR, 9,972 patients, >0.2% of patients affected by hacking

How to Prevent Hacking Incidents

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.

November 2022 Healthcare Breaches and Unauthorized Access or Disclosure

Incidents of unauthorized access or disclosures of PHI can occur in two ways – an authorized employee accesses PHI inappropriately, or an unauthorized party gains access to PHI. November 2022 recorded eight incidents of unauthorized access or disclosure of PHI. These incidents affected 1,521,788 patients, representing 22% of the breached records reported in November.

Entities affected by unauthorized access or disclosure:

  • 3 business associates, 7,757 patients, 0.5% of patients affected by unauthorized access or disclosure
  • 3 healthcare providers, 1,504,550 patients, 98.9% of patients affected by unauthorized access or disclosure 
  • 2 health plans, 9,481 patients, 0.6% of patients affected by unauthorized access or disclosure

Types of unauthorized access or disclosure:

  • 3 electronic medical records incidents, 15,247 patients, 1% of patients affected by unauthorized access or disclosure
  • 3 network server incidents, 1,502,927 patients, 98.8% of patients affected by unauthorized access or disclosure
  • 2 email incidents, 3,614 patients, 0.2% of patients affected by unauthorized access or disclosure

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.

November 2022 Healthcare Breaches and Other Causes

In November 2022, one theft was reported to OCR that affected 7,983 individuals, representing 0.1% of the breached records reported in November. The theft involved a non-laptop portable electronic device.