Health care industry is a prized target, experts say in wake of LifeLabs hack

Hackers accessed personal information of up to 15 million customers, almost all in Ontario and B.C.

LifeLabs signage is seen outside of one of the lab’s Toronto locations, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Cyber security experts say that the recent data hack at LifeLabs Medical Laboratory Services, one of Canada’s largest medical services companies, is part of a broader problem faced by the health care industry.

LifeLabs revealed Tuesday that hackers gained access to the personal information of up to 15 million customers, almost all in Ontario and B.C., forcing the company to pay a ransom to retrieve and secure the data.

Raheel Quereshi, co-founder of Toronto-based consulting firm iSecurity, said Wednesday that the health care industry is a prized hacker target in recent years because victims often will pay a ransom to avoid an operational disruption.

iSecurity’s experience has been that the health care industry accounts for about the 48 per cent of the cases it has handled — although it wouldn’t reveal the identity of any of its 300 to 400 clients in Ontario.

“We completed, I think, more than 10 different cyber security responses this year, in health care. Some of them you’ve seen on the news and some of them didn’t make it to the news,” Quereshi said.

“So health care has been a big interest for the external threat agents and the hacker community.”

From the hacker’s point of view, he said, the health sector promises a good return on investment.

“The attackers are targeting health care sector more for financial gain than, really, trying to extract the information and sell it elsewhere. At the end of the day, they just want to get paid once they get in.”

Rob Martin, a vice-president for Waterloo, Ont.-based cyber security firm eSentire, agrees that criminals may move on to other victims after they’re paid — but that’s not necessarily the case.

“If someone is complacent, and doesn’t remediate or resolve the problem that caused things to happen in the first place, that threat will often times recur … and hold people hostage again.”

What’s more, Martin said, the criminals are “very opportunistic” and can find other ways to sell the information contained within the hacked database.

“On what’s referred to often as the dark web there are electronic sites … where you can buy identities and personal information quite inexpensively depending on the value of that data,” Martin said.

LifeLabs said Tuesday that the compromised database included health card numbers, names, email addresses, login, passwords and dates of birth but said it wasn’t sure how many of the files were accessed during the breach.

Privacy commissioners from B.C. and Ontario said they would examine the scope of the breach, the circumstances leading to it, and what measures LifeLabs could have taken to prevent and contain it.

LifeLabs chief executive Charles Brown, who has apologized publicly, assured the public that its consultants have seen no evidence that the data has been trafficked by criminal groups.

It’s offering customers one year of free protection that includes dark web monitoring and identity theft insurance. It will also contact about 85,000 customers in Ontario whose lab results were accessed.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Mental health in the time of COVID-19

Taking care of our mental health is just as important as protecting our physical health

Interior Health officials outline pandemic response in virtual town hall

Kelowna-Lake County MLA Norm Letnick moderates digital discussion, Q&A with Interior Health leadership

MP Morrison touts non-partisan effort to provide relief amid COVID-19 pandemic

The federal government has announced a slew of economic initiatives for those impacted by the pandemic

Elk Valley seniors aren’t alone in facing COVID-19

A number of services have popped up throughout town to support seniors during the pandemic

B.C. COVID-19 contact restrictions working, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

’Not out of the woods yet’ as next two weeks are critical

Experts weigh in on best handling of groceries during COVID-19 pandemic

Study suggests the virus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic

COVID-19 world update: Enforceable quarantine in NYC?; France orders 1 billion masks

Spain warns EU’s future at stake; New York governor calls Trump’s idea ‘federal declaration of war

B.C. is seeing the highest rate of COVID-19 recovery in Canada, and there’s a few reasons why

British Columbia was one of the first to see rise in COVID-19 cases, and has also switched up testing

Earth Hour 2020 kicks off online Saturday night

Action moves online due to COVID-19

B.C. COVID-19 cases rise 92 to 884, one more death, 81 in care

Outbreak action underway in 12 long-term care homes

B.C. veterinarians want to smooth the fur of COVID-19-worried pet owners

Vets expect to continue giving your fur buddies the help they need while social distancing

B.C. VIEWS: Small businesses need our help

Just as integral in neighbourhoods in Vancouver and Surrey as they are in Prince George or Kelowna

‘Tremendous’ response from blood donors has supply keeping pace with demand

About 400,000 of Canada’s 37 million residents give blood on a regular basis

Most Read