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Marketplace for stolen medical records

The “business of cybercrime” in the health care sector is growing, according to the IT firm Intel Security in its McAfee Labs Health Warning report, which assesses the marketplace for stolen medical records; compares it with the marketplace for stolen financial services data; identifies health care focused cybercrime-as-a-service trends.

Raj Samani, Intel Security’s CTO for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, pictured, said: “In an industry in which the personal is paramount, the loss of trust could be catastrophic to its progress and prospects for success. Given the growing threat to the industry, breach costs ought to be evaluated in the Second Economy terms of time, money, and trust—where lost trust can inflict as much damage upon individuals and organisations as lost funds.”

Intel Security found that the price per record for stolen patient medical records remains lower than financial account records and retail payment account information, despite the increasingly time-sensitive, or perishable, nature of data such as credit and debit card numbers.

In recent years, the IT security company says that it has observed the cybercriminal community extend its data theft efforts beyond financial account data to medical records. Although credit and debit card numbers can be canceled and replaced quickly, this is not the case for protected health information (PHI) that does not change. This “nonperishable” PHI could include family names, mothers’ maiden names, social security or pension numbers, payment card and insurance data, and patient address histories. But, though this dynamic has led to industry speculation that the price per medical record could soon rise to rival or even eclipse that of financial account or payment card data, this 2016 research did not illustrate such price-point movement.

The research found the average health record price point to be greater than that of basic personally identifiable information, but still less than that of personal financial account data. The per record value of financial account data ranged from $14.00 to $25.00 per record, credit and debit cards drew around $4.00 to $5.00, but medical account data earned only from $0.03 to $2.42. The findings suggest financial account data continues to be easier to monetise than personal medical data, which could require an investment that financial payment data does not require. Upon stealing a cache of medical records, it is likely cybercriminals must analyse the data, and perhaps cross-reference it with data from other sources before lucrative fraud, theft, extortion, or blackmail opportunities can be identified. Financial data, therefore, still presents a faster, more attractive return-on-investment (ROI) opportunity for cybercriminals.

Samani said: “Liquidity trumps longevity in the race to monetise stolen data. If I steal a million credit or debit card numbers, I can quickly sell this digital merchandise before banks and retailers discover the theft and cancel these numbers. Alternatively, a million medical records contain a rich cache of permanent PHI and personal histories, but such data requires a greater investment of time and resources to exploit and monetise it.”

The IT security product company also investigated the targeting of biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms for their intellectual property and business confidential information. The researchers suggest that the economic value of such information is far higher than the cents-per-record data that the researchers identified within patients’ health care accounts. The researchers found evidence that formulas for next-generation drugs, drug trial results, and other business confidential information constitutes significant value. The stores of such data at biopharmaceutical companies, their partners, and even government regulators who are involved in bringing new drugs to market have become a premium target of cybercriminals.

Samani said: “Corporate espionage has gone digital along with so many other things in our world. When you consider that research and development is a tremendous expense for these industries, it should be no surprise that cybercriminals are attracted to the ROI of this category of health care data theft.”

Economics of Cybercrime-as-a-Service

Intel Security also identified cybercriminals using the cybercrime-as-a-service market to execute their attacks on health care organisations. Researchers found evidence of the purchase and rental of exploits and exploit kits to enable the system compromises behind health care data breaches. In one case, a relatively non–technically proficient cyber thief purchased tools to exploit a vulnerable organisation, used free technical support to orchestrate his attack, and then extracted more than 1,000 medical records that the service provider said could net him about $15,564. The researchers also observed brazen efforts by cybercriminals, through online ads and social media, to recruit into their ranks health care industry insiders with access to data.

Samani added: “When a well-developed community of cybercriminals targets a less prepared industry such as health care, organisations within that industry tend to play catch-up to protect against yesterday’s threats, and not those of today or tomorrow. Gaining the upper hand in cybersecurity requires a rejection of conventional paradigms in favor of radical new thinking. Where health care organisations have relied on old playbooks, they must be newly unpredictable. Where they have hoarded information, industry players must become more collaborative. Where they have undervalued cyber defense overall, they must prioritise it. In the Second Economy, if you win the ‘time’ contest with attackers, you are in a position to preserve money and trust.”

To read the report visit

Samani is among the speakers at the ISACA CSX Europe conference in London; the opening speaker of the day on Tuesday, October 31. Visit


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