Multiple healthcare providers across the United States, including Faxton St. Luke’s Healthcare, Gifford Health Care, UPMC Cole and UPMC Wellsboro have reported being affected by a ransomware attack on CaptureRx, a San Antonio-based company providing administrative services to healthcare organizations.
It is reported that files containing the health information of customers and patients, such as names, dates of birth, medical record numbers, and prescription information were accessed and stolen in the breach. CaptureRX announced that it began investigating the incident and notifying the impacted parties.
Having to work with the good old pen and paper after medical staff gets locked out of the system is one thing, but when they can’t access important medical data like information about critical care patients, the situation may become a matter of life and death. Just a month ago, the police in Germany launched an investigation after a woman died as a result of being transferred to another hospital following a ransomware attack.
So, why is healthcare such an appealing target for cybercriminals? And what measures can healthcare providers take to protect patients’ data?
What makes healthcare so attractive to hackers?
Healthcare institutions are a potential gold mine for cybercriminals,as they get to take hold of an overwhelming amount of the most sensitive data. Besides intimate medical data nobody wants to have exposed, hackers can get their hands on other private information, such as patients’ home addresses, social security numbers, and banking information. If stolen, this data can end up in financial or identity theft scams.
Unlike in other sectors, for example, retail, the information stolen in attacks against healthcare cannot be changed upon the detection of the breach. You can always get a new credit card or change your leaked passwords, but you can’t change your DNA.
Healthcare organizations make for an ideal prey for hackers, as many use outdated security software and continue to underinvest in cybersecurity. The healthcare industry invests only 4% to 7% of revenue in digital security initiatives. In comparison, the financial sector spends 15% of its revenue on cybersecurity. This is keeping in mind that, to the private healthcare sector, leaks of personal data might mean huge fines and even criminal charges for HIPPA violations due to negligence.
All of the reasons above provide hackers with a good chance of having their ransom demands fulfilled. To avoid a bad reputation and even legal repercussions, healthcare institutions must make cybersecurity their top priority.
What practical measures can healthcare organizations take to protect themselves?
Here are some steps healthcare companies should take to increase cybersecurity and protect patient information:
- Adopt zero-trust network access, meaning that every access request by a member of medical staff should be granted only after their identity has been appropriately verified.
- Encrypt medical files to avoid data leaks in ransomware. Even if encrypted files get stolen from corporate computers, hackers won’t be able to access their content which means they won’t be able to threaten you with exposing the data publicly. The best way to keep your valuable information safe is to encrypt it and back it up in the cloud so hackers wouldn’t be able to threaten you with wiping it. Moreover, encryption helps protect confidential data from prying eyes when sharing it with clients or among members of staff.
- Have up-to-date backups available to keep the chances of data loss as slim as possible. If an attack is successful, there will still be an unaffected older version of the files. Again, a cloud solution for companies is a great way to back up data.
- Educate employees on cybersecurity. Since ransomware attacks usually start with a phishing email, awareness and education will help employees recognize phishing scams and avoid downloading malware or sharing sensitive information with impersonators.
- Use a VPN for a safe internet connection. To avoid outside risks, employees need a secure connection, and here’s where a VPN (Virtual Private Network) comes into play. It creates a secure encrypted tunnel between an employee’s device and the internet or the company’s server. A VPN protects the connection from third-party access, including hackers ready to breach the system.
Oliver Noble is a security and encryption expert for NordLocker, a cybersecurity company.