By Bill DeLisi, CEO and CTO, GOFBA, Inc.
In October 2020 a joint advisory by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services and the FBI noted there is a “credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat” affecting U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers. A main part of this threat features ransomware attacks, where hackers take control of data and systems to extract ransoms.
The alert detailed the actions of a Russian-speaking group called Ryuk and a type of trojan known as Trickbot. Even more alarming, many healthcare providers might already be infected with malware, with hackers waiting for an opportune time to launch an attack and cripple the organization’s operations.
To prevent successful ransomware attacks, hospital IT and management teams need to implement multi-pronged strategies focusing on training, technology solutions, and other best practices. See below for a few actionable tips to include in your plan.
Preventing Intrusions with Training
A fall 2020 phishing attack against the University of Missouri Health Center exposed data for more than 14,000 patients. The health center noted two employee email accounts were hacked, which led to data access to Social Security numbers, clinical information, and other patient-specific data. The breach underscores the threat of staff members as the most prevalent conduit for hackers. Preventing such instances takes diligent training that helps workers understand the various threats and how they should adjust their behaviors accordingly. This is critically important.
Hackers also attack healthcare providers to take advantage of overworked nurses, doctors, and other clinical staff. COVID-19 places enormous strain on these workers, and they may not make the best IT-related decisions when they’re functioning on limited sleep and enormous stress.
Preventing the “human element” that leads to ransomware attacks requires diligent training. Here are some key tips for employees:
- Show staff members examples of phishing schemes. Use visuals to show them emails that might look authentic at first glance but deserve closer inspection. For example, phishing emails might include links with misspelled addresses and may not look professional, however recent phishing emails look very authentic, and hackers are getting much better at fooling people. Many recent hacking schemes use COVID-19 content to grab people’s interest.
- Discuss some of the most prevalent tricks hackers use to fool people, such as adding an urgent tone to messages or imploring them to take an unusual action, or even something as simple as “click here”.
- Encourage staff to confirm messages with their superiors or outside trusted resources. So instead of relying on a “Breakthrough Message from the CDC”, they should visit the official CDC site for assurance.
- Remind staff members it’s always acceptable to alert IT about suspicious messages. Get them to err on the side of caution, while also giving them the access they need to work effectively.
- Talk about vishing and smishing schemes, which come through the phone, tablet, or through SMS messaging. Email-based phishing has been around for a while, so hackers are using new pathways like vishing and smishing to persuade your employees to give them access.
Manage Remote Workers
The number of at-home healthcare workers is exploding due to COVID-19, as administrative and billing roles are easily handled through online platforms. And, with the rise in telemedicine, more practitioners are setting up HIPPA-compliant communications tools from home.