For the second straight year, ransomware attacks accounted for over 70 percent of all malware incidents in the healthcare sector, according to the recently issued 2019 Verizon Breach Investigations Report. Beazley reported that almost half of the ransomware incidents reported in 2018 involved healthcare companies, while CSO Online estimates that healthcare-related malware attacks will likely quadruple by 2020.
Adding salt to the wounds, a private practice in Battle Creek, Michigan, was forced to close its doors in the aftermath of a devastating healthcare ransomware attack in 2019—the first public report of a ransomware-related business failure. Every day we read about another headline breach in healthcare.
Being in the ransomware hot seat is a lot to swallow for an industry responsible for the security of our most sensitive data. And therein lies part of the problem. Cybercriminals are always after the most lucrative targets and they have learned that healthcare providers are more likely to pay the ransom to get their patients’ data back.
CEO of A1care, Percy Syddall, a 25-year healthcare veteran who helps grow and manage businesses in the Home Care field is sharing his story to help others avoid the business disruption and financial woes caused by cybercriminals. Syddall said, “I always strive to do what is best for my clients, which includes leveraging innovative technologies and maintaining the privacy of their personal data. Still, our company was attacked by ransomware, which almost forced us out of business. The cybercriminals threatened to expose private client data if we did not pay the ransom.”
“The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was call each client and explain that the personal information they trusted my business to protect, may have been compromised. At that time, very little was known about ransomware and I ended up paying the ransom to get my client data back,” continued Syddall.
Even though medical records contain rich personal health information (PHI) that can be sold for high value, cybercriminals are discovering they can get faster payment through ransomware. Unlike stolen medical records that take time to acquire and commoditize, ransomware locks healthcare professionals out of critical systems and demands payment or immediate action.
Every person, from the newest employee to the CEO, can either strengthen or weaken an organization’s security posture. For this reason, healthcare companies need to help their employees take precautions against the latest ransomware scams, otherwise their organization may be the next ransomware victim.
One of the main reasons healthcare has become such fertile ground for ransomware hacks is the shift to digitalized personal healthcare records in a rapid time frame. Less than ten years ago, most physicians updated patient records manually and stored them in color coded file systems. By the end of 2017 industry data suggests that approximately 90 percent of office-based physicians have moved to electronic systems (electronic health records/electronic medical records) for the storage, retrieval and management of electronic health data. Virtually all of these systems are online and internet accessible. Electronic healthcare medical records really made the healthcare industry a perfect target for ransomware attempts.
But, the cost of a ransomware attack goes far beyond any extortion payment. When considering the associated costs including downtime, lost revenue, angry patients or customers, attack mitigation and recovery expenses, brand reputation damage, and non-compliance fines, in retrospect the cost of the ransom itself may seem trivial.
When United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) was impacted by the global WannaCry outbreak of 2017, it brought hundreds of NHS facilities to a standstill for several days, resulting in the cancellation of thousands of appointments and operations, as well as the urgent relocation of patients from impacted emergency centers. In April 2017, Erie County Medical Center lost access to 6,000 computers due to a ransomware attack, which resulted in six weeks of manual operations and a recovery process that ultimately cost the medical center $10 million.
Unfortunately, security technologies can only do so much to protect your organization against an attack. Ransomware typically spreads through phishing emails or by visiting an infected website. Even the most advanced antivirus and anti-ransomware solutions can’t stop Fully UnDetectable (FUD) threats that were conceived by cybercriminals to directly evade existing security layers and harm data. In fact, the majority of ransomware victims have some traditional Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware protection in place and yet still fall prey to attacks.
Even if your organizations has backups, you may be surprised to find that you are still vulnerable. Today, many criminals do reconnaissance on their victim’s network and compromise backups before deploying the encrypting malware to increase the odds that the organization will pay the ransom.
But paying the ransom doesn’t always work out either. A study by the CyberEdge Group shows that of the 39 percent of ransomware victims who have paid, less than half recover their data. It also leaves the victimized organization vulnerable to another attack. If the root cause of the breach is not corrected, another day can bring another ransom request.
Ultimately, it is up to your organizational leaders to decide whether or not to pay. Healthcare organizations are a favorite target of cybercriminals because they are more likely to pay up when computer downtime can introduce life or death consequences. Regardless of your position on paying cybercriminals a ransom, the best strategy is to avoid being placed in a compromised position in the first place. But how?
Obviously, all healthcare organizations want to avoid being a ransomware victim, but cybersecurity is a complex problem that requires multiple layers of defenses. Small to medium size healthcare organizations are particularly vulnerable since many believe they don’t have adequate financial or technical resources to defend themselves against the onslaught attacks.
Industry experts estimate that a company with 50 employees may have to spend upward of $50,000 to deploy sophisticated endpoint technologies such as antivirus, anti-malware software and firewalls to keep intruders out and then thousands of dollars each year to keep everything up to date. Even when making this investment in security, it doesn’t guarantee a breach won’t happen. Just one wrong click by an employee is all it takes.
5 Ransomware Prevention Tips to Help Employees
In the face of this rapidly-growing threat, healthcare organizations should take concrete steps to deploy the technologies needed to protect systems from ransomware attacks. But employees need to educated on how ransomware is distributed and taught how to be cautious when clicking on online advertisements or email links, visiting a new website, and opening attachments from unfamiliar or suspicious senders.