Why healthcare is a prime target for cyberattacks March 30, 2021

Even before COVID-19, healthcare professionals have had to tackle overwhelming daily challenges, like operating 24/7 on tight budgets and insufficient resources and with zero downtime to recharge.

But we are beginning to see the crest of a wave of new challenges: cyberattacks.

The most common of these are ransomware attacks, where malicious software infects computer networks, blocking systems access. These attackers then demand a fee in order to unblock these systems.

 

Ransomware attacks in healthcare aren’t new, but their level of sophistication and the frequency of breaches are escalating quickly.

 

And hospitals are an ideal mark for these attacks. Healthcare professionals require immediate access to medical data (including EMRs, credit card information and clinical research) in order to treat patients and deliver emergency care. And attackers know that because of this urgency around data access, they’re more likely to have their ransom paid.

 

However, simply paying off a ransomware attacker isn’t the solution either. Last year, the US Treasury Department announced that companies that facilitate negotiations with ransomware extortionists could face steep fines from the federal government.

 

So how can the healthcare sector protect itself from critical risks that make it susceptible to cyberattacks? We’ve outlined some of the main ways these organizations leave themselves vulnerable to cyber attacks and how they help prevent them in the future.

Balancing data protection with access and usability

One of the most crucial requirements when it comes to accessing medical data is the ability to do it quickly. So while complex authentication and verification processes used to protect this data might make sense from a security standpoint, cumbersome login procedures make it difficult for doctors to gain access to this information when they need it. And often, for expediency's sake, these security measures get circumvented (2 character passwords, anyone?), which leaves this highly sensitive data open to security breaches.

Rather than try and force doctors to comply with rigid security measures, the best option is to develop authentication methods that are convenient, practical and designed with usability for the end-user in mind. With the right systems in place, data can be protected and doctors and other medical professionals won’t have to take security shortcuts, leaving their organization vulnerable to attacks.

Controlling data and systems access

When it comes to controlling access to data and systems in healthcare (and most other industries), best practice comes down to whether the right person is accessing the right data or system at the right time.

For example, does every computer within your organization need internet access? A Wi-Fi connection isn’t always needed, especially on machines designed for basic, repetitive tasks. Also, does your entire organization need to be able to accept emails from external parties, or could you restrict access to internal email exchanges only for certain machines?

The reality is that it’s extremely challenging for healthcare professionals to manage issues of access. Especially if they are part of a healthcare network that spans multiple hospitals and clinics and collectively employees hundreds of medical professionals who are constantly sharing data across the network.

These medical professionals are rarely afforded the downtimes (or have the know-how) to perform a review of data and systems access across their whole network, especially if they aren’t working with a cybersecurity firm. Many don't have extensive privacy breach technologies and reporting, so the majority might be completely unaware a breach has even happened. And because these healthcare networks don’t have the ability to monitor data and systems access appropriately, it leaves them open to potential cyberattacks.

How to protect your healthcare organization

Healthcare professionals are not security experts - nor should they be. They are not custodians of medical data and systems security. Their core competency is and should be in providing patient care. So one of the best options is to seek out the services of a professional cybersecurity company that can help create a customized solution for your organization. A good cybersecurity partner will take the time to understand your security issues so they can recommend defensive products that will be the most effective based on your individual infrastructure and security assessment results.

Cycura provides research-powered, customized offensive cybersecurity services to organizations and governments of all sizes. We’re a scalable, responsive cybersecurity partner, ready to help you close gaps, reduce risk, and strengthen your security posture.

To learn more, set up a free discovery call for your organization.

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