Ransomware, a type of malware (malicious software) designed to prevent or limit users from accessing a computer system until a ransom is paid, has become increasingly widespread in recent years. Healthcare organizations are particularly vulnerable to ransomware attacks, and the costs and consequences of a ransomware incident can be devastating. In addition to the financial losses incurred if an organization pays a ransom or must revamp or replace its IT infrastructure, critical patient information may be lost and healthcare compromised, while an institution’s reputation may be irreparably damaged.
Healthcare IT professionals must be aware of the growing threat of ransomware attacks, the potential consequences, and prevention and remediation strategies available to healthcare organizations. Below is a resource guide to link healthcare IT professionals to important information about ransomware: threats and key statistics; past ransomware attacks and predictions about the future; costs involved with malware attacks; and prevention and protection strategies. Read on to learn about how your organization can increase security and protect itself against this growing threat.
Key Statistics on Ransomware
A recent HHS fact sheet reports that there have been over 4,000 daily ransomware attacks since early 2016, a 300% increase over reported attacks in 2015. The document goes on to outline prevention and recovery strategies for healthcare organizations.
According to the recent Solutionary Security Engineering Research Team (SERT) Q2 ’16 Threat Intelligence Report, 88% of all ransomware attacks targeted the healthcare industry. Ransomware known as CryptoWall was responsible for 94% of all detected ransomware attacks. The report notes that trends in cyberattacks have “shifted somewhat from ‘stealing information to sell’ to ‘stealing money’” via ransomware and email fraud. (Additional information about Solutionary threat reports can be found here.)
Secure Edge Networks provides an infographic summarizing ransomware threats, costs, protections, and key concerns.
In a special report on cybersecurity, Healthcare IT News outlines threats from ransomware, hackers, medical devices, and vulnerabilities created by the Internet of Things.
A Wired analysis explains why hospitals are the “perfect target” for ransomware, concluding simply that “[r]ansomware is rampant because it works.” Ransomware schemes are profitable, and hospital networks are ripe for attack.
Healthcare IT Security describes how ransomware affects hospital data security and explains how ransomware attacks could affect healthcare delivery. The piece also summarizes security services currently being used by healthcare organizations to combat malware attacks.
A recent Health Data Management article outlines the FTC’s concerns about ransomware, citing former FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez’s warning that healthcare is particularly vulnerable to malware attacks, which are “escalating at an alarming rate.”
Past Attacks and Future Predictions
Healthcare IT News profiles 14 ransomware attacks at North American hospitals in 2016, while Becker’s Health IT & CIO Review provides a roundup of 12 recent ransomware attacks. These incidents disrupted computer systems, blocked access to patient records, and in many cases involved hefty ransom demands.
In its 2017 Data Breach Industry Forecast, Experian predicts that healthcare organizations will be the most targeted sector again in 2017, with ransomware named as a “top concern.” The piece warns that “an increase in hospital breaches means the consequences for healthcare organizations that don’t properly manage this risk will increase,” making information security measures particularly important for healthcare organizations. Modern Healthcare offers additional discussion of the Experian report.
HIPAA Journal outlines a troubling new variant in malware attacks, the fileless ransomware attack. In these attacks, no files are downloaded into the target system, making detection more difficult. The piece explains fileless attacks and emphasizes the importance of backup.
The Total Cost of Ransomware Attacks
CSO Online offers a statistical roundup of the “skyrocketing rise of ransomware in healthcare,” covering key figures and recent research reports on the topic.
In “Ransomware and Health Care: There’s More at Risk Than Just Money,” Security Intelligence explores non-monetary risks involved with ransomware attacks, including threats to patient safety, health care data (including personal health information, or PHI), and the reputation of affected healthcare facilities.
An HIT Consultant op-ed argues that healthcare providers targeted by ransomware attacks should not pay a ransom, both because this may lead to further attacks on the industry, and because the focus should be on data security and restoration rather than on monetary demands.
Garland Technology’s TAP Into Technology blog outlines threats to health record security, explaining that the information contained in electronic health records has high value to potential attackers and high costs to hospitals and patients in the event of a loss. The piece includes a link to a free white paper on network security.
Prevention and Protection Strategies
HITECH Answers offers three strategies for defeating ransomware, including awareness, holistic prevention plans, and incident response and remediation plans.
In “Avoiding Healthcare Data Loss in the Age of Ransomware,” Health System Management offers information about how to implement data protection plans and prevent data loss or a reduction in operation due to ransomware attacks.
Fortune profiles one small health network, Christopher Rural Health in Illinois, that “dodged the ransomware bullet” through proper data backup. The piece links to additional resources on ransomware and ways to avoid or combat it.
In “Healthcare IT’s Guide to Ransomware Survival,” Dyntek outlines a six-part plan for healthcare organizations seeking to prevent ransomware attacks.
Health IT Outcomes offers a guide to combatting ransomware in healthcare. Key steps include education, prevention, and remediation. The piece also links to an on-demand webcast with additional information.
A TechTarget interview with healthcare CIO David Reis outlines all aspects of ransomware attacks and how healthcare organizations can address potential problems. TechTarget also offers a ten-part plan for stopping ransomware threats that target healthcare data.
IBM offers a downloadable ransomware response guide that explains how to identify and contain ransomware, as well as how to protect information and resources.
As long as ransomware remains lucrative for attackers, the number of attacks will likely continue to grow, posing an ever-increasing threat to healthcare organizations. While it may not be possible to predict or thwart every potential attack, there are a number of strategies to help healthcare professionals protect networks and data. As with so many things, awareness and preparation are critical, and proper planning may mean the difference between a threat averted and a full-blown crisis. Healthcare IT professionals will want to remain aware of this critical aspect of information security to ensure that both patients and organizations are protected.
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