In countless ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down, leaving very few industries untouched. Around the globe, many healthcare facilities have been pushed to their limit in terms of capacity and employee fatigue.
While cybercriminals have always targeted healthcare systems, the stress caused by the new coronavirus has exacerbated the industry’s digital vulnerabilities. While there may be some comfort in prominent hacking organizations promising not to attack healthcare facilities during the crises, it’s difficult to place trust in criminals known for extortion.
If you manage a healthcare facility, whether a hospital or a small private practice, it’s essential that you educate yourself and your staff on cyber threats and take preventative measures.
Why do Hackers Target the Healthcare Industry?
One reason cybercriminals go after healthcare organizations is that they know many facilities outdated and software and operating systems (OS). Many healthcare organizations have legacy applications and older medical equipment that uses antiquated software and operating systems.
While the hardware may still function, their producers no longer provide support, create updates, or complete security patches. Hackers exploit these holes, and the mass amounts of sensitive data these devices store make them enticing and lucrative targets.
Cybercriminals are financially motivated, and, unfortunately, they often succeed in stealing data from organizations and ransoming the release of their information. Identifiable health information is a valuable commodity that can be sold on the darknet. Hackers either resell this data or use it to commit financial fraud or identity theft. When contact information is exposed, they often use the information to create lists for phishing attacks.
How do Hackers Target the Healthcare Field?
Attacks against healthcare organizations typically come in one of two forms:
- Malware that compromises the integrity of the systems on a network
- Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that disrupt workflow and the facility’s ability to provide patient care
While many other organizations face the same types of attacks, the stakes aren’t just financial in the healthcare industry. When cybersecurity breaches occur at hospitals or other care facilities, the ramifications can mean life or death for patients.
Common attacks against healthcare organizations include:
- Ransomware – Malicious code designed to lock a system down and prevent access to stored data and other resources
- Data Breaches– Information stolen from a system without the user’s knowledge
- Phishing – Emails appearing to be from a legitimate or trusted source to trick the recipient into revealing information that can be used by the hacker
- Malicious Insiders– Disgruntled or former employees, contractors, or vendors who use insider information to compromise systems on a network
What Steps Can You Take to Protect Your Computers and Network?
Fortunately, there are several steps your organization to take to protect your devices and network from attacks. Some tactics are more comprehensive than others, but may also come at a higher sticker price.
- Deploy a Firewall– A firewall creates a barrier between your systems and the outside world, preventing access to your network and alerting you to intrusion attempts.
- Use Complex Passwords– Strong and frequently updated passwords make it much harder for hackers to penetrate your systems. While this may seem obvious, cybercriminals often succeed in discovering passwords and carrying out attacks. To prevent this, you can use applications that measure the strength of passwords and push requirements for end-users to update passwords periodically.
- Integrate Antivirus Software– Antivirus software protects systems against viruses, keystroke loggers, malware, and Trojan horses. The software plays a role in protecting against system-level threats and providing real-time detection and alerts.
- Protect Against Fileless Malware– When you invest in fileless malware protection, you are defending your organization against a cyberattack technique that is difficult to detect, even by individuals who are well-trained in cybersecurity threats. The attacks use existing software, allowed applications, and authorized protocols to carry out malicious activities, allowing them to fly under the radar.
- Update the OS and Applications– By updating your OS and applications, you close security holes in your systems and prevent version exploits against known weaknesses.
- Backup Systems– Recoverable system backups are critical in mitigating and remediating the effects of ransomware. Having system images and data snapshots, ideally offsite in a cloud storage environment, is an essential part of any cybersecurity strategy.
Because healthcare facilities face cyber attacks more frequently than other organizations and businesses, healthcare managers must take a comprehensive approach to digital cybersecurity. To protect not only money and data but also human lives, healthcare facilities need layered defense systems, advanced IT professionals, well-trained staff, and detailed backup plans for worst-case scenarios.