More than 24 million data records, belonging to patients across 52 countries, were found freely accessible on hundreds of servers that lacked basic protection for the sensitive data they held.
From mid-July through early September 2019, researchers with Greenbone Networks analyzed about 2,300 medical image archiving systems connected to the public Internet. These Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS) servers are typically used within the healthcare industry to store images from radiological procedures so physicians can review them. The protocol is known as DICOM, or Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine.
It’s not new to learn PACS servers are unsecured, the researchers say. What’s new here is the full extent of how widespread these security issues are: Of the 2,300 archive systems analyzed, 590 were found to be accessible to the public Internet. Combined, they hold 24.3 million data records belonging to patients around the world. The number of images linked to the data sets is estimated to be around 733.5 million, about 400 million of which could be accessed or downloaded.
The “vast majority” of records exposed included the patient’s first and last name, birthdate, date of examination, scope of investigation, type of imaging procedure, attending physician, the institute or clinic, and number of images generated, the report states. Given the extent and sensitivity of personal data compromised, researchers warn of the potential for social engineering or business email compromise (BEC) attacks. They estimate the value of this data on the Dark Web could exceed $1 billion
Researchers found 31 systems that provided direct access to patient data through a DICOM Web Viewer. No authentication was required to access the data, and in most of these 31 systems, the information was transmitted in plaintext. They also identified more than 10,000 vulnerabilities on the systems, more than 2,000 of which were categorized as “high severity.”
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