With the increasing amount of sensitive data being stored and transmitted electronically, hackers are constantly on the lookout for vulnerabilities to exploit. The consequences of a successful cyber-attack on a healthcare organization can be devastating, not only putting patient information at risk but also potentially impacting the quality of care provided.
The February cyber-attack on Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare is a lesson for all healthcare organizations and underscores the importance of having strong cybersecurity strategies in place to mitigate the growing threat of cyber-attacks.
Why is cybersecurity in healthcare so vital?
The healthcare sector is one of the most targeted industries for cybercriminals. This focus is likely to be influenced by a few different factors, such as:
- Healthcare institutions possess a vast array of sensitive information such as patients' health records and payment card details. This consolidated collection of valuable data in one place makes it a prime target for malicious hackers.
- Ransomware groups tend to focus on organizations that they believe are more likely to pay the ransom. Healthcare institutions are particularly attractive targets because they provide vital services and need to resume operations as soon as possible, making it more probable that they will comply with the demands of attackers.
- The use of networked devices in healthcare organizations, known as the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), is becoming more common. However, many of these devices are not secure enough, making it easier for hackers to gain access to confidential data and the organization's networks.
Most common types of cyber-attacks in healthcare
Cyberattacks in healthcare can take many different forms, and it's important to understand the different types of attacks that can occur.
Ransomware: a type of malware that can lock down critical systems and demand payment in exchange for access. This can be particularly devastating in healthcare, where access to patient data and critical systems is essential for providing quality care.
Data breaches: Healthcare institutions possess vast amounts of confidential information such as Social Security numbers, medical histories, and other personally identifiable information. This data can be stolen and used for identity theft or other types of fraud.
Phishing attacks: Fraudulent emails that appear to be from a trustworthy source. These emails may contain links or attachments that, when clicked or opened, can install malware on a computer or network. This can be used to steal sensitive information or access critical systems.
DDoS attacks: Involves overwhelming a healthcare institution with an excessive amount of traffic by utilizing a network of compromised systems. In some cases, the attacker may require a ransom to be paid for the organization to regain full functionality, similar to a ransomware attack.
Account takeover: these exploit vulnerable or compromised passwords obtained through phishing or other means. Once an attacker gains access to a legitimate user's account, they can carry out malicious actions such as stealing sensitive information, planting ransomware, or performing other harmful activities.
The impact of cyber-attacks in healthcare
While the exact nature of the incident at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare was divulged, it was suspected to be a ransomware attack, and took 13 days to get systems back online. The impact of cyber-attacks on the healthcare industry can be significant, both in terms of patient outcomes and financial costs.
For example, a cyberattack that results in the loss of patient data can have serious implications for patient privacy and can also impact the quality of care provided. In the case of Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, following the detection of the cyber-attack IT systems were taken offline, non-emergency procedures were suspended, and patients who required emergency medical services were diverted to other hospitals. For patients admitted to the hospital, such as the maternity ward, there was a switch to paper documentation for admission or providing care.
Healthcare providers may need to spend significant amounts of time and resources to recover from such an attack. The cost of data breaches in healthcare can be significant, with the average cost of a data breach in healthcare being over $10 million. This includes costs associated with remediation, regulatory fines, and lost business.
Preventing cyber-attacks in healthcare
Cyber threats are ever present and preventing them from
- Creating a strong cybersecurity culture from the top down
- Implementing strong password policies and multi-factor authentication
- Regularly updating software and security patches
- Conducting regular risk assessments and vulnerability scans
- Network segmentation
- Limiting access to sensitive data and systems
- Implement endpoint protection and mobile device management
- Monitoring networks and systems for suspicious activity
- Providing regular training and education to employees on cybersecurity best practices, including how to identify and respond to potential threats,
- Regularly reviewing and updating security policies and procedures.
The importance of employee awareness training
Employee cybersecurity education is one of the most important steps that healthcare providers can take to prevent cyber-attacks. This involves providing regular training and education on how to identify and respond to potential threats, as well as ensuring that employees understand the importance of cybersecurity and their role in protecting patient data.
Training should be tailored to the specific needs of employees, taking into account their roles, responsibilities, and level of technical expertise. It should also be conducted regularly, with ongoing reinforcement and updates as needed.
Stay vigilant against cyber-attacks in healthcare
The threat of cyberattacks in healthcare is real and growing, but healthcare providers have several tools and strategies at their disposal to protect patient data and prevent potentially devastating breaches. By implementing strong security measures and protocols, providing regular training and education to employees, and working with trusted IT partners to identify and implement cybersecurity solutions, healthcare providers can stay vigilant against cyber-attacks and ensure that they are providing the highest level of care to their patients. ThreatAdvice offers healthcare services a comprehensive suite of solutions and services to attain the highest vigilance against cyber-attacks.