Health sector turning the tide on cyber attackers

By Jo Makosinski | 5-Oct-2022

Health trusts have highest fix rate of software security flaws, but 77% of apps still contain vulnerabilities, according to new research

The healthcare sector is finally turning the tide on cyber attackers, with research showing it takes first place for the proportion of software security flaws that are fixed, at 27%.

According to research by application security testing solutions provider, Veracode, the healthcare sector overtook financial services as the top-performing industry, demonstrating it is making good headway toward the goal of making software more secure.  

The data was published in the company’s annual State of Software Security (SoSS) report v12, which analysed 20 million scans across half a million applications in the healthcare, financial, technology, manufacturing, retail, and government sectors.  

Chris Eng, chief research officer at Veracode, said: “Healthcare is one of the more-highly-regulated sectors and is considered critical infrastructure by the Government, so it’s encouraging to see the sector performs comparatively well in terms of overall flaw remediation.

“We hope healthcare developers and IT staff see this as a welcome ray of sunshine amid the all-too-often-gloomy realm of software security.

“But there is still work to do, so here’s to more improvements in the years to come.” 

However, despite taking the top spot for fix rate, 77& of applications in the healthcare industry contain vulnerabilities, with 21% containing high-severity vulnerabilities.

The sector also has ample room for improvement in terms of the time spent to fix flaws once they’re detected, taking up to a whopping 447 days to reach the halfway point of remediation.  

Healthcare breach costs are the most expensive 

With healthcare companies incurring the highest average breach costs – at a new record high of $10.1m – taking pro-active steps to minimise the risk of a cyber attack is imperative.

And, since data breaches in highly-regulated industries tend to be associated with larger long-term costs that accrue over the ensuing years, the industry would benefit from even-greater comprehensive efforts to address security earlier in the software development lifecycle, Eng said. 

We hope healthcare developers and IT staff see this as a welcome ray of sunshine amid the all-too-often-gloomy realm of software security

Of the six industries analysed, healthcare providers rank toward the bottom for the proportion of applications with any flaws, and second to last for the percentage of high-severity flaws—defined as those that present a serious risk to the application and organisation if they were to be exploited.

When it comes to the types of flaws discovered from dynamic analysis of applications in the sector, compared to other industries healthcare providers perform well for authentication issues and insecure dependencies, but have a higher incidence of cryptographic and deployment configuration issues.  

Eng said, “We know that no application will ever be 100% free of security flaws, so it’s important that businesses take all necessary steps to minimise risk as much as possible.

“This includes scanning at a regular, rapid pace using multiple testing types, integrating testing tools into developer environments, and providing hands-on training to help developers understand the origin of flaws and how to fix or prevent them entirely.

“The healthcare sector should also take extra care to prioritise critical flaws – those vulnerabilities that could have a catastrophic impact if left unaddressed for too long.”   

Third-party library security 

Considering a sharp increase in regulations to secure the software supply chain over the past year, the report analysed third-party libraries to identify how vulnerabilities discovered through software composition analysis (SCA) behave.

Overall, around 30% of vulnerable libraries remain unresolved after two years. However, that statistic reduces to 25% for the healthcare sector.

In fact, while the overall ratio of vulnerable libraries found by SCA trends down steadily over time, healthcare experienced a brief upward spike before driving rates down dramatically over the last year or so.  

Click here to read the full report.

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