The Biggest Ever U.S. Healthcare Hack Wasn’t for Sinister Needs

The cyberattack targeting healthcare insurance firm Anthem that resulted in the compromise of users’ data in a massive breach affecting 80 million people was unanimously accepted as by security researchers as a breach by Chinese hackers. However, the cause for the breach may not for the reasons you’d expect.

China is a massive powerhouse of a country in size, culture manufacturing capabilities, research infrastructure, military technology and population. That’s just counting the obvious few. There’s a 7% economic growth rate set as a target by the Chinese government every quarter. The world sees China as a country with big ambitions.  However, even a charging rhino tires.

China’s central bank recently cut its bank rates for the sixth time in less than a year this month to kick-start a slowing economy and a falling currency. Yes, the growth rate dipped to 6.9% for the first time in over five years. China’s tremendous population is more connected to the world than ever with the advent of affordable, scalable consumer technology like connected mobile phones.

Naturally, the population is also turning more aware and more demanding of their government, more now than ever before. With this in mind, one sees reason in the means in which China allegedly employs state-sponsored cyber espionage to steal industry, research and technological secrets from other countries.

Cyberespionage between China and the U.S.

Among the largest data breaches of recent times, one to even dwarfing the Ashley Madison incident was the hack of major health insurer Anthem that resulted in the compromise of personal
information of nearly 80 million people. That’s every 1 person out of 4 out in the United States.

usachinaThe cybercriminal enterprise is big industry, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars from stolen credit cards, banking details and even stolen Uber account credentials that are transacted every day on the dark web.

The Chinese government has steadfastly refused all accusations throughout the years and has categorically denied the notion of state-sponsored hacking. Such claims are, of course, state denials as both China and the United States actively engage in cyberespionage operations targeting each other.

The Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper Jr., even testified to the game of cat and mouse, saying, “We (the United States), too, target practice cyberespionage and…we’re not bad at it.”

Investigation into the Breach

In a new revelation, the Financial Times reports that Chinese hackers targeted the US health industry with various breaches targeting Anthem, CareFirst Blue Cross BlueShield, Premera and other health insurers around the same time. The reason for the hacks, according to the publication was to help China understand how the U.S. dealt with and regulated medical care, according to sources involved in the Anthem investigation.

The widening gap between the rich and the poor in China, along with a healthcare system that is rife with corruption has citizens paying their own money for healthcare, despite Beijing’s landmark achievement of providing basic health insurance that covers 95 percent of the Chinese population that stands at 1.4 billion people today.

Essentially, investigators believe that the gathering of intellectual property and trade secrets in the healthcare industry were the reasons for the attacks.Health insurance

It’s important to note that the healthcare sector is among the most targeted industries by malicious hackers, and it’s easy to understand why. Healthcare data fetches the highest rates in the underground, online black markets of the dark web.

China’s President Xi Jinping recently completed his first ever stateside visit, an occasion that led to the U.S. government holding back sanctions against the Chinese state in a move to ensure good diplomacy. The topic of cyberattacks was high on the agenda, and the two nations agreed not to target each other for commercial and corporate reasons in a cyber pact.

A cybersecurity firm counting several companies as its clients has since revealed that Chinese hackers have still continued to target and attack U.S. companies, the day of and the day after the cyber-pact was agreed between the two countries.

After President Jinping’s visit, the Chinese government has stuck with the goodwill fostered since the visit and has arrested certain Chinese hackers recognized by the U.S. government to have a history in stealing commercial secrets from U.S. companies that were then likely sold to state-run companies in China.

The arrests, government officials say, may be a move of good faith shown by China. Or it may appear to be so.

That game of cat and mouse continues.

Images from Shutterstock.

Samburaj is the contributing editor at Hacked and keeps tabs on science, technology and cyber security.