Unsurprisingly, the healthcare industry has been struggling under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic. But this year, we saw another threat to the solvency of cash-strapped hospitals, medical clinics and other providers that could put their survival and the well-being of patients at risk.

This threat is none other than ransomware and it has now massively infiltrated the healthcare industry. In October earlier this year, the FBI issued  a warning about the impending threat that ransomware poses to the US healthcare system.

And while ransomware may not be life threatening the way COVID-19 is, the results of a ransomware attack can be truly devastating for hospitals, medical professionals and even patients themselves.

Why Target Healthcare Organizations?

The reasons behind this is simple. Hospitals and medical clinics are often viewed as “soft targets” by perpetrators of ransomware attacks. They know hospitals can’t afford to have their IT infrastructure compromised, and even a short-term outage could put the lives of patients at risk.

At the same time, hospitals are struggling with monetary shortages, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of elective surgeries and other revenue-generating procedures.

With tight cash flow, few hospitals have the resources to field an entire IT team. The resulting lack of experts puts them at risk.

The statistics behind ransomware in the healthcare industry are startling enough to spur every healthcare administrator into action.

Healthcare Cybersecurity Statistics in 2020

  • Over the past five years, ransomware attacks have cost the health care industry more than $160 million, a significant problem in a world of rising hospital and medical costs.
  • Data breaches are far from isolated incidents. Nearly 9 in 10 healthcare organizations experienced a breach in their cyber defenses in the past two years alone.
  • Hospitals depend on connected web applications to deliver critical patient care, but nearly all of those apps are vulnerable to ransomware and other forms of cyber-attacks.
  • More than 80% of healthcare professionals surveyed said that cyber security was one of their biggest concerns.
  • According to a recent survey, nearly one quarter of ransomware victims in the healthcare field admitted to paying a fee to get their data back.

The fact that so many healthcare organizations are willing to pay ransom is exacerbating an already bad situation and increasing the threats for everyone else.

The results of a ransomware attack can be dire, not only in terms of patient care and safety but in terms of fines and fees. Healthcare organizations that lack a vigorous cyber defense are leaving themselves open to millions of dollars in governmental and private sector penalties.

The Greatest Ransomware and Cyber Security Threats to Healthcare

Not content to merely disrupt an operation, the latest wave of ransomware attacks focus on taking networks down completely, putting patient care and hospital operations at risk.

Surprisingly, many of these threats are still coming by email, with phishing attacks, targeted spear phishing attacks and broad spectrum messages designed to capture the largest number of victims. These targeted emails are becoming increasingly sophisticated, allowing them to slip through even the most rigorous spam filters.

How to Stop and Reduce Cyber Threats

The dangers posed by ransomware is expected to quadruple over the next few years. But healthcare organizations are not helpless in the face of this onslaught; there are steps that hospitals, medical clinics and private doctor’s offices can take to protect themselves and reduce their risk of being victimized.

Reduce the Risk of Ransomware with Security Awareness Training

With users being the weakest link, security awareness training is the number one thing healthcare organizations can do to protect themselves.

With this innovative cyber security solution, healthcare organizations can schedule simulated phishing campaigns to test their own users on a quarterly basis, targeting various parts of their organization in a deliberate and highly effective manner.

Financial spoof emails can be sent to the hospital accounting department, while fake shipping and receiving invoices and UPS and FedEx updates can be sent to shipping and receiving to test their security awareness.

This type of training is critical given the current situation and the growing dangers that healthcare organizations now face. Even today, a surprising number of employees continue to fall for phishing emails targeting widely used products like Office 365 and Google.

Good spam filters work by recognizing when the name and email address does not match, and this is a good first step for healthcare organizations that want to improve their safety. Spam filters can help by reducing the number of phishing emails and ransomware attempts that make it through, but a layered security approach is the ideal approach.

The reality is that one cyber security solution is not enough. Think of the Swiss cheese analogy where one layer is stacked on top of a second layer, on top of a third layer so that cyber threats would need to penetrate multiple layers before getting through to your network.

How to Spot Phishing Emails

Healthcare organizations can protect themselves from ransomware in the following ways:

  • View your email inbox with skepticism. Take the time to read incoming messages and report suspicious emails to your IT department or managed IT provider.
  • When it doubt, pick up the phone. Call the apparent sender of the email to verify authenticity. (i.e. If you receive an email from the bank, call the bank directly to make sure the message is real.)
  • Educate yourself about the kinds of spoof emails that are out there. The threats you and your staff face will be key to an effective cyber defense.

how to stop phishing

A proactive cyber defense that includes security awareness training, the use of quality spam filters and reliance on experienced IT managed service providers will be key going forward.

If the healthcare industry is to survive not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also the ransomware epidemic, a smart, proactive layered security approach is necessary in 2020 and beyond.

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