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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Over 32 million people have had their protected health information breached this year, in 311 hacking incidents against health care providers that are under investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The big picture: Complex, bloated hospital systems are a glaring weak spot in U.S. cybersecurity — and there are limits on the government's power to help.

Hospitals are vulnerable because they maintain so many systems at once — medical records, billing records and also internet-connected medical devices — that get further entangled after mergers, which have been spiking for at least a decade.

  • "Hospitals do make an attractive target for cyber bad guys," said John Riggi, a senior cybersecurity adviser for the American Hospital Association.
  • Attackers know hospitals are open 24/7, have a vastly complex network and can't afford interruptions to public health.

"Cybercriminals know they are a soft target where they can access patient records and social security numbers and other information," Suzanne Schwartz, a deputy director in the FDA's device center, tells Axios.

  • Security firm Forescout has uncovered broken-down protections in hospital systems that make patient records vulnerable. The firm works with one of the largest health care providers in the New York area, Forescout's Tom Dolan said.

Threat level: Some vulnerabilities aren't as hard to fix as they might seem, experts said.

  • Riggi explains he has heard medical device manufacturers tell hospitals to buy total replacements for machines that may only need a security software update.
  • "And the hospital won't, because that costs a crap-load of money," Dolan said, noting hospitals can make 30-year investments in equipment like MRI machines.

What's next: The AHA doesn't make its own cybersecurity guidelines and the FDA's are limited. The agency is seeking more legal authority over device security, and the AHA wants FDA guidelines to be made mandatory.

  • The FDA's cybersecurity oversight in hospitals is limited only to medical devices — not the other internet-connected devices that hospitals are also full of.
  • The FDA's ability to work with medical device-makers to tackle cybersecurity has improved drastically since the 2017 WannaCry attack, Schwartz said — but hospitals still have weaknesses that are left unaddressed.

The bottom line: The AHA and security vendors like MedCrypt and Forescout recommend that hospitals use network segmentation or medical devices with built-in security features.

Go deeper: What your hospital knows about you

Go deeper

Most teachers are white. Most students aren't.

Expand chart
Data: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

The nation's 6.6 million teacher workforce has grown more racially and ethnically diverse over the past three decades — but not nearly fast enough to keep pace with a student population that's nearing majority-minority in public schools, two new reports show.

Why it matters: The disparities are especially acute between Hispanic students and teachers, and in schools with 90% or higher non-white student populations.

Updated 11 hours ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 13 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

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