Cyber-attacks on the health care sector have been growing exponentially in recent times, which is a reason to worry. Knowing how crucial the health care sector is, attacks against it must be avoided at all costs.
Hospitals of varying sizes are being targeted from time to time, and while the large-sized ones make an extra effort by committing more to the budget allocation for their IT facilities and personnel, small-sized hospitals find it hard to do the same. This causes them to bear the risks of having their systems shut down or crashed, taking them out of business in extreme cases.
These attacks are mostly carried to exploit records of people of note, high net-worth individuals, or to hold systems to ransom, hoping to get large sums of money in return. Once in a while, these attacks are executed by rival houses trying to put one up the other.
Dedicated Denial of service (DDOS) is another type of attack facing the health care sector. In the event of this sort of attack, money is lost, lives are put at risk as no one can reach important information during the service downtime.
The major cyber risks in the healthcare sector have been selected for further discussion below.
Table of Contents
- Cyber Attack Risks in The Healthcare Sector
- Tips for Institutions and Individuals to Stay Protected From Cyber Attacks
Cyber Attack Risks in The Healthcare Sector
The healthcare sector has long been an important part of our society. From medical to administrative to engineering, there are many sectors that contribute to making our society function the way it does. But as the world moves forward, so does the way in which healthcare is being used. With new technologies and advancements in technology coming into play, it’s important to understand how cyber risks are being managed in the healthcare sector.
Cybersecurity in the healthcare sector has come a long way over the past few years, but there are still many concerns that must be addressed. With better monitoring and enhanced security being the goals, we’ve compiled a list of the most important cyber risks for the healthcare sector.
Just as the name implies, this is attributed to the improper use of information and infrastructure by people in the organization. Employees are allowed access to the internal network on their devices. Some are even allowed to access the internal drive so that they can work from home or other remote locations.
There are two possible scenarios in this case – one of them being the careless handling of devices, thereby allowing attackers to gain access. The second is that the attacker would wreak havoc on the system internally.
Device theft, password theft, spam emails, and virus-infected files are the major ways by which these attacks are perpetrated. People get their stuff stolen or get sent phishing emails when it seems hard for an attacker to crash the entire system. The motive behind this is to compromise the employee’s device while hoping that the malicious program can travel into the organization’s network once the employee gets connected to the network.
Third-Party Supplier Risk
Third-party agents from time to time exchange data with hospitals, some to enhance the quality of services being provided, some for storage (cloud services), and the notable ones being data security clients. They have to test for security flaws, perform vulnerability tests recommended by OWASP on the network and install applications to detect, flag, and prevent attacks. Despite all these, rogue agents may collaborate with these clients and subsequently engage in unscrupulous activities, which may result in the exposure of vital data to other criminals or people with ill intent.
On the technical aspect of things, particularly data exchange, problems might arise from the encryption model of the partner. Most times, the model is either weak or contains no form of encryption at all. This, of course, poses a large risk on the hospital’s end as their data is greatly exposed, and attacks can be carried out based on that.
In this regard also, equipment being supplied by third-party partners stand the chance of being sub-par, not amounting to the value quoted, or ending up less efficient than what was required by the organization itself.
Ransomware attacks attempt to encrypt your data with some sort of encoding, revoking your access to it and requiring you to pay a certain amount or risk losing your data permanently. This attack could come in from the WiFi network, malicious files being distributed by users in the organization, or outdated software.
Sometimes, even after paying the ransom, you may not get your files back as criminals cannot be trusted, so it is often best to have your files and system safe and secure as much as possible. To date, big companies in the healthcare sector battle ransomware attacks from time to time with a lot of finance and resources. For regular Internet users, however, there are some common tips to avoiding these attacks.
Another point worthy of note is the user’s unintentional actions. When a document or data file is not properly handled, there is a risk of losing that file. Since the new normal requires that people work from home, this is a huge possibility, especially with people who do not have proper orientation on proper file handling and data security.
The risks associated with this work model can be mitigated through proper training and permission allocation within the system.
Denial of service (DDOS) looks to completely paralyze the activities of external users (majorly), leading to a service failure, confusion, and frustration of users in dire need of the service. This is carried out by overloading the network with too many requests than what the server can handle, hence shutting them down out of exhaustion.
A simple yet deadly risk is that of email compromise. This can happen when the email account of a person in place of power is hijacked and used to initiate an urgent fund or data transfer. More often than not, the destination of such assets is untraceable, so the criminal can get away with the assets.
Tips for Institutions and Individuals to Stay Protected From Cyber Attacks
As individuals and organizations battle to stay ahead with all these risks flying around in cyberspace, they must take steps to mitigate these risks. Some tips have been highlighted below to help in this battle.
Proper Training and Awareness of Staff:
While staff members can be an entry point for a possible security attack on a system, they must be made aware of the weight of their influence on the security of the organization. They should also be intimated on the worst possible scenario that a compromise on their device or account can cause. Proper sensitization should be carried out on the methods which criminals use to gain access to and corrupt systems. Emails and information should be made available to constantly serve as a reminder to everyone.
Proper Software Maintenance:
While most organizations manage the software on their group machines, it is important to note that they should make sure the software applications are updated when needed.
Unnecessary applications should be uninstalled immediately, and unverified applications should not be allowed on work machines. System administrators should take on the responsibility of installing and updating applications on work machines to prevent indiscriminate or improper install of applications.
Securing the Network:
The major network security measures implemented on work systems are antivirus and firewall install. These applications work on a network level and span through the entire organization. Whether the security applications are on-premise or cloud-based infrastructure, the protection they offer spans through the internal network of the organization. Another security measure that can be implemented is installing a VPN for security.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) will make internal applications inaccessible for outsiders while users can work with a clear and visible audit trail. In addition to this, a VPN also adds an extra layer of encryption to the network, scrambling the data and therefore, making it useless to anyone that intercepts this data as it travels through the network.
Audits and Checks on employees and third-party clients: Before taking on a new employee, thorough background checks should be carried out, so their history can be verified before they let them in the system and start trusting them with sensitive data. For third-party agents, a set of security rules should be sent ahead as a prerequisite for working with the organization. This way, the risk of external data exchange will be reduced.
Proofreading and verification of emails and communications before engaging are basic yet vital steps in battling cyber-attacks in the healthcare sector. Memos on this should be communicated internally to avoid breaches.
Public health experts have identified the ever-increasing menace in the cyber-attacks on the healthcare system, charging public and local health departments to prepare, respond and recover from these disasters.
No system is completely secure; as the saying goes, however, there are steps that need to be taken to frustrate the efforts and attempts of attackers and also to reduce the risks that are found lying around, either from experts or health officials on all scales.
Curbing these attacks is the goal, so first and foremost, the initial hard move against this should be on internal data management. Cloud storage is a good option to turn attention towards in this case, as it provides for more security, backup storage, and restoration should an urgent need arise.
Furthermore, attention should be turned towards employee training and data handling policies in the organization. Permission and user access should be scaled upward or downward according to user permission, importance, rank, and age in the organization, as trust should be carefully built and molded over time.
Written by Johnathan Abram