The healthcare industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, progressing not only in terms of medical care but also technology. The internet has pervaded many medical devices, allowing them to wirelessly send data and store them electronically. However, this digital boom has received attention from the dark corners of the internet—hackers who are eager to exploit security threats in healthcare and sell them on the black market for a hefty price tag. Healthcare players like hospitals may neglect to fortify their security defences due to tight budgets, making it easier for these malicious attackers to steal medical data. Given the high volume of transactions a hospital conducts and the hundreds of patients it might be housing, combined with low security standards, this is a recipe for disaster.
In the face of these challenges, people within the healthcare industry need to understand what issues they are grappling with and how best to address them. To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of the major security threats you could face in 2022 and beyond.
Why Hackers Target Healthcare
Hackers usually go where the money is, and in healthcare’s case, the money lies in the exploitable data in an electronic health record (EHR). This patient data by itself is valuable, but when combined with personal and financial data, it can fetch a sizable sum. The people who buy this information can use it to conduct medical ID theft, spear phishing campaigns, financial fraud, and so much more. Moreover, EHR records can accumulate for years and be shared across networks, providing multiple attack surfaces to exploit.
Another important factor is the low tolerance for downtime in most healthcare facilities. Any malicious activity which disrupts day-to-day operations can prove deadly, and many will opt to give in to demands rather than try and mitigate the issue. Cybercriminals exploit the human element in healthcare to the hilt, preying on unsuspecting patients and the providers treating them. According to Forcepoint’s 2020 Healthcare Breach Report, there’s been a 55% rise in cybersecurity threats, making these attacks a $13.2 billion industry . IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report 2021 asserts that healthcare data breach costs have risen by 29.5%, from $7.13 million in 2020 to $9.23 million in 2021 .
Major Security Threats to Watch Out For
Healthcare practitioners have to be very careful in their transactions and interactions; all it takes is one innocent-looking email to bring the whole organisation down. Here are some of the most pressing threats to stay wary of:
Human error is a leading cause of cybersecurity mishaps, and the healthcare sector is especially vulnerable to this since it employs so many people across the supply chain. A hospital could have hundreds of workers, all of whom may not be adequately trained in cyber security. Their focus will naturally be on patient care and administration, not cyber risks. If they are not made aware of the dangers of phishing, ransomware, and computer viruses, the entire organisation could be affected.
Another factor to consider is rogue employees who want to sell patient EHR to the underground market for monetary benefits or out of personal grievances. These workers could access the network through configured devices with the necessary access permissions, making these employees a serious security threat. Authentication thus becomes a vital issue here since a simple password just won’t cut it anymore.
Malware such as ransomware is a big problem in any sector, but it takes on a whole new dimension then it comes to healthcare security threats. The industry survives on a complex network of services and reporting, which means that if one section falls, the entire system could fall with it. Attackers know this and exploit it for their benefit.
Ransomware is an ideal tool for their nefarious purposes since it cuts off access to critical files, systems, and devices—or slows them down significantly—until the ransom is paid. It starts as an innocent-looking email with a link or an ad with malicious code, and then escalates until the entire network is infected. The 2017 NHS WannaCry attack was one of the biggest such attacks, affecting 16 health trusts and halting surgeries in their tracks. Patients couldn’t be admitted and treatments couldn’t be administered because records weren’t accessible. If you face a similar situation, your healthcare organisation may have to transfer ransom money that could have been used for patient care, new infrastructure, etc.
Everyone is moving to the cloud, especially with the rise of remote working since it requires seamless access to organisational resources. Healthcare firms have followed suit, but not all cloud platforms are HIPAA compliant. This makes them vulnerable to attacks. Moreover, the shared data might not be encrypted when sent to and from the cloud, exposing it to hackers searching for loopholes within the system.
Internet of Things (IoT) has become commonplace in many hospitals, integrating IoT devices with user devices such as smartphones and smartwatches to provide reports and other information instantly, as well as monitor for adverse health outcomes. For example, OpenAPS is an open-source Artificial Pancreas System (APS) technology that anyone can use to automatically adjust basal insulin levels for diabetic patients. Given its open system, hackers could potentially gain access to it and wreak havoc. There are even guidelines on its site to mitigate such risks. Issues like these are rife within IoT, especially when considering all the unprotected IoT data stored in cloud repositories. DDoS attacks are another potential problem since IoT devices feature low levels of protection. A malicious attacker could flood the network with bots and freeze operations.
Many hospitals continue to run on legacy versions of Windows such as XP and 7, either due to lack of funds, preservation of patient information, or inattention to software upgrades. Even the apps used are stuck in older versions with security holes. Support for older platforms is limited, making them an easy target for attackers who can exploit unpatched vulnerabilities.
How to Keep Your Hospital Safe from Security Threats
You can deploy numerous strategies to safeguard your healthcare enterprise from security threats, although it is important to remember that no one is 100% safe from attacks. All a company can do is make sure they have the best protection in place and have a plan ready to go in case the worst happens. Here are some guidelines to ensure you’re prepared for any scenario:
- Implement zero-trust strategies and data encryption across your organisation to prevent insider threats from accessing EHRs and other patient data. Enhance your authentication to two-factor or risk-based. Data should be protected as per guidelines such as OWASP and HIPAA.
- Consider using a private cloud or data centre that automatically encrypts and backs up your data. The latter is vital since it will provide a safeguard in case of a ransomware attack. Not all attackers restore data and services as promised, so any backups you have will become crucial to restoring normal operations.
- Upgrade your software and apps regularly. Companies like Microsoft send security patches to address newly discovered vulnerabilities and viruses. The time and finances invested in this will pay off long-term.
- Educate employees on the essentials of cyber security, such as the importance of a strong password. This will also help reassure patients concerned about their privacy and safety.
- Invest in robust anti-virus software that can cater to your organisation’s complex security requirements. Keep it updated so it can defend against the latest dangers.
- Conduct regular vulnerability assessments and penetration testing (VAPT), so you are aware of any gaps in your security. This will allow you to mitigate them effectively and help prevent attacks.
ThreatScan: Your Trusted Healthcare Cyber Security Threat Partner
Healthcare needs an aggressive cyber security approach to address all threats systematically and thoroughly. ThreatScan is a SaaS-based vulnerability management and penetration testing platform that goes deep into your system to scan for vulnerabilities, scrutinise risks, and help perform manual pentests. You’ll get an instant threat score to see how your application and network are faring in terms of security, along with an overall organisation score and risk posture. There’s even an easy-to-understand dashboard to manage vulnerabilities, view the status of your pentest, and much more.
If you’re new to this process or feel lost, our AI-based chatbot, Diana, will help you submit, download, and reapply for tests in real-time. The AI-based chatbot will help you answer any questions related to cyber security or about the product. We are also available 24/7 to support you through the pentest journey. You’ll receive all ThreatScan notifications through email, Jira, and Slack integration, allowing you to take action quickly and communicate effectively with your team on your preferred platform.
Start protecting your assets with ThreatScan by contacting us here.