By Diwakar Dayal
Threat actors are no strangers in targeting critical sectors to get what they want and the healthcare industry has been a victim of choice. Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent variants, hospitals and clinics have seen alarming rates of attacks in recent years with more incidents directly leading to patient endangerment.
A recent study by Ponemon Institute and Proofpoint.Inc., found that cyberattacks have significantly strained healthcare providers, resulting in the following:
- More than 20% of providers surveyed reported experience with common attacks including cloud compromise, ransomware, supply chain, business email compromise (BEC), and phishing.
- Cyberattacks have caused delayed procedures and tests, increased complications in care, and longer patient stays for 57% of the providers surveyed.
- Cyberattacks have cost an average of $4.4 million in 2022 with productivity losses totaling $1.1 million.
Life-critical services and patient care are at stake when threat actors aim healthcare organizations.
Understand the shifting nature of ransomware
Medical service providers present two attractive opportunities to financially-motivated cybercriminals: service disruption and data theft.
Exploiting the Fear of Service Disruption
Over the past few years, ransomware attacks have been the direct cause of many major disruptions in healthcare services. By locking out medical staff from accessing their critical tools and databases, ransomware has been responsible for canceled surgeries and delayed treatments.
Victims from this sector are reportedly most likely to pay the ransom with 61% of providers having paid out compared to an average of 46% from other industry verticals.
Medical Data is in high demand
Hospitals and clinics especially hold mass amounts of sensitive data of their clients – data that is easily sold on dark marketplaces and used for identity theft and fraud.
The high worth of private patient information ranging from contact details and Aadhaar numbers to payment data and Protected Health Information (PHI) has driven up the rate of attacks on healthcare organizations.
Payment data like credit card numbers can be frozen and replaced, but medical histories such as test results, diagnoses, and treatment plans cannot be removed or canceled.
Recognizing that data extortion can be both more profitable and less resource-intensive, some threat actors have moved to extortion-only methods.
Outdated systems bear many low-hanging fruits of access
For threat actors, outdated environments and a lack of advanced security features spell opportunities for breaches.
Due to the highly specialized nature of technology in healthcare, the high cost of implementing and maintaining new systems hinders many small and medium-sized providers from upgrading regularly.
Digitalization doesn’t always translate to full adoption
Digital transformation in the world of health care can be very disruptive. Since the health sector is characterized by a high degree of specialization, medical professionals and organizations oftentimes work in silos.
Software introduced to solve one problem at one facility may cause issues elsewhere in the workflow. A lack of integration with existing systems can create problems with patient safety and the security of medical records while bringing down staff productivity.
Reducing the risk is not a simple one-step operation, but the emergence of open XDR technology is leading to answers to problems that older technologies like SIEMs and SOARs attempted but failed to address.
Regulatory compliance is ever-changing
Healthcare providers shoulder a heavy responsibility when it comes to balancing the protection of patient privacy, complying with HIPAA, GDPR, and other regulatory frameworks, and providing quality care. Cybercriminals have rushed to take advantage of providers who may have few resources and budget to juggle all of these requirements on the day-to-day.
The regulatory compliance industry is often changing and can become a complex undertaking for even the better-funded medical service providers.
How to boost medical service providers’ defenses
Get a streamlined security solution on the device level
Having a wide array of Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices combined with lengthy patch cycles leave endpoints vulnerable to cyberattacks. A simple, straightforward security solution that can protect a device or endpoint and ensure that a full inventory of everything on a network is protected in real-time, should be in place.
Rely on frictionless security operations and threat resolution
In-house cybersecurity experts are hard to come by in the healthcare provider industry. During a potential security event, having a team of experts to analyze, triage, and neutralize any threat means providers and medical staff can continue their operations.
A suitable solution which is a 24/7/365 monitoring detection and response service offering should be leveraged by an expert team to continuously monitor an environment for early indicators of compromise (IoC
Protect Cloud Workloads
To meet the most up-to-date regulatory requirements on data protection, many healthcare providers rely on cloud environments to store, manage, and transmit their patient’s PHI.
To get ahead of threat actors, hospitals and clinics using cloud services must fully understand how the services are being implemented and maintained. The right solution should ensure visibility within the cloud so providers can see how file sharing is being done, what type of data is being stored, and what applications are connected.
As the future of healthcare moves steadily towards the digital, threat actors have seemingly locked their sights on medical service providers globally. Organizations can’t afford to wait for the next attack, so prevention and visibility are the main goals as CISOs in this sector set out to protect patient PHI and ensure continuous care for those in need.
The state of healthcare organizations does not have to remain precarious though, and CISOs and technical leaders can work to strengthen their cyber security posture against data breaches and ransomware attacks. By implementing a single, robust security platform which is the most appropriate one, providers can ensure transparency across all their critical endpoints and protect sensitive patient data from being compromised.
(The author is a Managing Director and Country Manager, SentinelOne India and the SAARC region. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)