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

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

SD62 bus driver Kerry Zado said it’s common to see drivers lose their patience and pass by his bus while he’s picking up students during the morning commute. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
School bus driver laments motorists who pass while red lights are flashing

All buses in Sooke School District outfitted with stop sign cameras

Victoria police are seeking home surveillance video and witnesses following a prowling incident in Esquimalt Jan. 20. (Black Press Media file photo)
Esquimalt prowler removes air conditioner, peers into person’s home

VicPD is seeking video footage, witnesses following Jan. 20 incident

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

Victoria police are warning people of a continued rise in cybercrime. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)
Victoria police warn of rising cybercrime called spear phishing

Fraudsters continue to trick people out of large sums of money

Metchosin Coun. Kyara Kahakauwila is stepping down as deputy mayor following controversy over her decision to travel to Mexico in December. (Black Press Media file photo)
Councillor steps down as deputy mayor of Metchosin after controversial trip to Mexico

Mayor hopeful mediation will help council get back to the business of community

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Jan. 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Vancouver Island residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

Seven streets in downtown Duncan, including Station Street, will soon have new native names added to their signage. (Submitted graphic)
New Duncan street signs will be in English and Hul’q’umi’num

Seven streets to get additional names in First Nations language

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

Most Read