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Healthcare – a Vulnerable Sector for Cybercrimes

Authored By: Nikhil Taneja, Managing Director-India, SAARC & Middle East, Radware

The healthcare industry is a prime target of hackers. According to Radware’s 2018-2019 Global Application and Network Security Report, healthcare was the second-most attacked industry after the government sector in 2018. In fact, about 39 percent of healthcare organizations were hit daily or weekly by hackers and only 6 percent said they’d never experienced a cyber-attack.

Increased digitization in healthcare is a contributor to the industry’s enlarged attack surface. And it’s accelerated by a number of factors: the broad adoption of Electronic Health Records Systems (EHRS), integration of IoT technology in medical devices (software-based medical equipment like MRIs, EKGs, infusion pumps), and a migration to cloud services.

Case in point: 96% of non-federal acute care hospitals have an EHRS. This is up from 8% in 2008.  

Accenture estimates that the loss of data and related failures will cost healthcare companies nearly $6 trillion in damages in 2020, compared to $3 trillion in 2017. Cyber crime can have a devastating financial impact on the healthcare sector in the next four to five years.

The Vulnerabilities

According to the aforementioned Radware report, healthcare organizations saw a significant increase in malware or bot attacks, with socially engineered threats and DDoS steadily growing, as well. While overall ransomware attacks have decreased, hackers continue to hit the healthcare industry the hardest with these attacks. And they will continue to refine ransomware attacks and likely hijack IoT devices to hold tech hostage.

Indeed, the increasing use of medical IoT devices makes healthcare organizations more vulnerable to DDoS attacks; attackers use infected IoT devices in botnets to launch coordinated attacks.

Additionally, crypto mining is on the rise, with 44 percent of organizations experiencing a crypto mining or ransomware attack. Another 14 percent experienced both. What’s worse is that these health providers don’t feel prepared for these attacks. The report found healthcare “is still intimidated by ransomware.”

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has warned about the dangers of DDoS attacks on healthcare organizations; in one incident, a DDoS attack overloaded a hospital network and computers, disrupting operations and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses and damages.

Why Healthcare?

The healthcare industry is targeted for a variety of reasons. For one thing, money. By 2026, healthcare spending will consume 20% of the GDP, making the industry an attractive financial target for cyber criminals. And per Radware’s report, the value of medical records on the darknet is higher than that of passwords and credit cards.

And as my colleague Daniel Smith previously wrote, “not only are criminals exfiltrating patient data and selling it for a profit, but others have opted to encrypt medical records with ransomware or hold the data hostage until their extortion demand is met. Often hospitals are quick to pay an extortionist because backups are non-existent, or it may take too long to restore services.”

Regardless of motivation, one thing is certain: Ransomware and DDoS attacks pose a dangerous patient and those dealing with health issues. Many ailments are increasingly treated with cloud-based monitoring services, IoT-embedded devices and self or automated administration of prescription medicines. Cyber-attacks could establish a foothold in the delivery of health services and put people’s lives and well-being at risk.

RecommendationsSecuring digital assets can no longer be delegated solely to the IT department. Security planning needs to be infused into new product and service offerings, security, development plans and new business initiatives–not just for enterprises, but for hospitals and healthcare providers alike.

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