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What Healthcare Organizations Need to Know Before a Cybersecurity Attack

By August 14, 2023No Comments

Important Notice: Security Breach Impacting Your Patient Information 

“We are writing to inform you about a security breach that has affected our hospital’s systems and resulted in the authorized access of patient information–including yours.”

The last thing any patient expects is to have their most personal information accessed and taken away by a stranger. We’re not just talking about one-off events, either. We know that these attacks are pervasive, and it’s happening more than ever before.

Not ensuring your security and management solutions are preventing and protecting your enterprise is costing you more. When it comes to maintaining healthcare infrastructure, including patient data, what are the costs of not keeping up with necessary updates? As malicious cyber actors become smarter and more evasive, healthcare organizations need to step up their defenses.

To be prepared for any threat, you need to know why healthcare organizations are a target, what kind of attack might come your way, how they work, and what you can do to protect yourself against them.

Why Is Ransomware Targeting Healthcare More?

As these incidents continue to disrupt patient care and safety, malicious threat actors have experienced a greater willingness to pay ransoms. It’s a manipulative cycle, one they’ve engineered to exploit.

According to Tracking Healthcare Ransomware Events and Traits data, 400 ransomware incidents revealed that the most common disruptions were electronic system downtime, scheduled care cancellations, and ambulance service diversion.

Victims become less and less likely to restore their systems from backups when threat actors infect backups or reinfect systems during the restoration process.

Once inside, they know they have a high likelihood of success.

Another contributing factor to these attacks? The healthcare sector lags behind banking and retail when it comes to spending budgets on cybersecurity.

A Closer Look at Cyber-Attacks in Healthcare

Recent cyber-attacks on healthcare organizations have been particularly varied and sophisticated. Ransomware attacks have been prevalent, where cyber criminals encrypt sensitive data and demand a ransom for its release. Phishing attacks are also common, with malicious actors seeking to trick staff into revealing login credentials. There have been also instances of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, aimed at crippling healthcare systems by overwhelming them with traffic. Finally, direct hacking into systems through exploiting vulnerabilities in software is another type of attack that has plagued healthcare organizations. These attacks underscore the urgent need for robust cybersecurity measures in the healthcare sector.

According to the latest Verizon Data Breach Incident Report (DBIR), malicious actors used three primary methods to gain access to a healthcare organization: “stolen credentials, phishing and exploitation of vulnerabilities.”

For Security Operations teams, then, vulnerability scanning plays a critical role in preventing successful cyber-attacks. Vulnerability scanning involves identifying, classifying, and addressing weaknesses in the healthcare organization’s systems, applications, and network devices. Automated tools can be used to systematically check for vulnerabilities that malicious hackers could exploit. These tools search for known vulnerabilities like outdated software or faulty code, which are clear gateways to infiltrate systems.

When any vulnerabilities are detected, the analyst must quickly take remedial action. This can involve applying software updates to fix vulnerable points in the system (patch management) or making configuration changes to strengthen the system’s defenses. The analyst should also establish a regular scanning schedule to ensure continuous vigilance and timely detection of any new vulnerabilities that may arise. It’s important to produce regular reports detailing the findings to keep stakeholders informed and ensure accountability.

Remember, vulnerability scanning is just one part of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. It should be complemented with other protective measures like intrusion detection systems, robust encryption protocols, staff training, and a well-planned incident response strategy to effectively safeguard healthcare data.

Prevention is the best medicine in cybersecurity

While true for healthcare, it’s also true for cybersecurity: prevention is the key. In the DBIR, Verizon researchers also noted this: “Mitigating…attacks takes time” along with considerable technical resources. If both time and resources are scarce, “prevention and early detection are your best friends.”

So, what does prevention look like?

To start, continuous vulnerability scanning and remediation, as noted above, is critical. This needs to be part of a broader strategy to get complete visibility of, understand, and manage your attack surface.

When it comes to managing your attack surface, there are a few key elements to consider. First up, we have Asset Management. This involves discovering and keeping track of all the hardware and software assets in your organization and regularly updating your inventory to catch any unauthorized devices or software. It may also include being able to see all the devices connected to other networks, like the free/guest hospital wireless network.

Next, we have Patch and Vulnerability Management, which is all about making sure your systems have the latest security updates to minimize the risk of known vulnerabilities being exploited.

Access Control is another important aspect, where you set up strict user access policies, limit user privileges, and use multi-factor authentication to protect sensitive resources.

And last but not least is Threat Intelligence. By staying on top of the latest threat trends and attack techniques, you can be proactive in defending your organization.

Combine all these elements with regular audits and staff awareness programs, and you’ll have a solid defense strategy for managing your attack surface.

Remediating any issues that emerge is going to be critical in keeping your attack surface small and reducing the risk to healthcare operations.

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