August 25, 2021//Tori TaylorLast Updated: September 08, 2021
Right now, the entire country is experiencing déjà vu and saying, “Here we go again” as COVID-19 cases are on the rise due to the Delta variant.
Last year, hospitals and healthcare organizations suffered brutal ransomware and phishing attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare cyber attacks came from all sides and caught facilities off guard from the aggressiveness and sheer volume of hacks and cyber threats. Hackers were trying to breach electronic medical records (EMR) to access valuable private patient data — a hot commodity on the black market. Internal employees were caught snooping on patient medical records. And third-party vendors (like machine technicians) and programs (like telehealth) that healthcare systems trust and heavily rely on became avenues for hackers to use to access medical systems and information.
Now with the Delta variant, healthcare organizations are undoubtedly looking at last year and the attacks thus far this year to prepare for future cyber threats that come with surges in COVID cases and hospitalizations, which strains hospitals of all sizes. As we look back, we can see the lessons learned from the cyber bomb dropped on healthcare organizations and use these lessons to fuel future healthcare cybersecurity strategies.
The pandemic brought on unique challenges that caused even more strain to healthcare facilities than usual, like reduced resources and an overwhelming influx of patients. Hospitals were more concerned about providing care for patients and making sure they had enough space, staff, and equipment like ventilators and PPE. Understandably, their focus might not have been on healthcare cybersecurity, but on saving lives instead. But hackers took notice and took advantage, which is why data breaches increased in the healthcare sector by leaps and bounds.
Not only is healthcare data some of the most valuable data sold in underground markets, but the high volume of patients (and therefore patient data) make hospitals a gold mine for hackers. Hospitals also can’t afford downtime when it comes to responding to ransomware and phishing attacks. They can’t shut down operations like other critical infrastructure or supply chain organizations — it could literally be a matter of life and death. Just look at some recent examples, not even from last year, but from the last few months:
The impact ransomware has on healthcare institutions could not only cost hospitals money and resources, but also human lives.
Now more than ever before, hospitals need more equipment, higher production of supplies, and more advanced technology and devices, not to mention the IT needs of at-home healthcare workers who have to remotely access a healthcare system’s network. Hackers are Houdinis with the internet; they’ll take any internet-enabled devices (whether that’s medical equipment, laptops, or VPNs) and use it as an avenue to attack. This is even more of a risk considering that most hospitals are manually calculating device inventory and don’t have reliable ways to identify which devices are active or inactive on the network at any given time. Now that the Delta variant is playing COVID on repeat, hackers can continue to find more vulnerable devices, connections, and access points to exploit.
Unfortunately, hospitals get threats from every corner of the cyber threat landscape. They can’t escape the insider threat or the dangers from an external third party; the entire operation of a hospital relies on its employees, staff, vendors, and contractors. This means their systems need to follow suit and have tighter security measures.
The government is in the process of passing a $1 trillion critical infrastructure bill, where nearly $2 billion is being devoted to cybersecurity alone. This is all due to the hefty and real-life consequences of recent cyber attacks on critical infrastructure like JBS, Colonial Pipeline, and Kaseya. The amount of money critical infrastructure is putting behind cybersecurity efforts should wake up hospital IT and security teams because they are just as much at risk of attack — possibly more — as critical infrastructure. A recent report by CyberMDX and Philips revealed these alarming stats about healthcare cybersecurity investments:
The survey also revealed there was a huge talent shortage in healthcare cybersecurity, and most healthcare facilities struggled to fill jobs within 100 days of posting. In addition, compliance teams are under-resourced and underfunded. How can hospitals stay safe and within compliance guidelines when there’s no one there to make sure it’s meeting regulatory standards?
This is the healthcare sector’s opportunity to learn from the past. We know healthcare IT teams are hurting, burnt out, and struggling. And we know they want to do all they can to secure their patients and their staff. As healthcare cybersecurity professionals, we can help.
SecureLink has solutions that can automate and streamline many of the practices that will tighten security measures and mitigate the threat of a healthcare cyber attack:
The good news is that we’ve been through this before, and now you have support on your side. Let’s work together to secure your healthcare system and stop the threats.