Healthcare is an industry that’s rife with opportunity for attacks. From the sensitive information guarded within the industry for each patient to things like medical equipment and treatments that cost real dollars, it’s easy to see why healthcare facilities would be a target for threats like viruses and ransomware. But while most of us have an idea what a computer virus is, there’s a question that often lingers for those who haven’t acquainted themselves with cybersecurity knowledge: What is ransomware, and why is it a threat?
What Is A Ransomware Attack?
Ransomware, as the name suggests, is a program that, once worming its way into your system, requires you to pay ransom. How? It uses encryption to safeguard the contents of the computer or network from you yourself. This means that before you can get to the data you’ve earned through hard work and good business, the assets like payment info and patient info that you’ve been trusted with, you have to pay a stranger to let it go. It’s exactly like a kidnapping — but a kidnapping of your data and even computer access.
What’s more, your data is still technically at the ransomer’s mercy even when you’ve provided payment; in theory, once you pay you’re provided with a decryption key to be able to access the files and programs you had on your computer. But just like any kidnapper, a ransomware attacker could simply not honor the request — leaving you back at square one, possibly being wrung out for all you’re able to pay them.
How Healthcare Facilities Are Affected
Healthcare, as mentioned above, is an industry that deals in both money and data — large amounts of both, if you look at your typical visit to the hospital or doctor’s office — and therefore is a prime target for anyone looking to make a profit off the exploitation of these two assets. There are, of course, other factors to consider, such as industry-specific softwares that, if compromised, could lead to an inability to work. Since healthcare work means saving lives, compromising the ability to do this work is a big problem in itself.
But more than that, the data of the healthcare field is especially enticing to attackers, because it includes data that often isn’t found anywhere else. It’s one thing when you think about how identities can be stolen for bank access and the like, and of course, the medical system utilizes social security numbers just like banks do, making that an easy connection. However, there are other factors, including the use of patients’ medical history and background, that make it easy for attackers to exploit the healthcare system further, such as in allocating drugs, succeeding in insurance fraud, and even selling the sensitive information to black market buyers on the dark web. Breaches of healthcare data, especially that regarding patients, is also a specific and glaring issue within HIPAA, the healthcare industry standard for data compliance — a standard which has legal and financial repercussions when a facility has failed to protect its patients.
Data’s not the only big thing that’s targeted, though. Like mentioned above, the connection to things like banking information is possible thanks to a ransomware attack, and so too is the ability to compromise healthcare establishment funds. Of course, there’s the obvious grab: while all these breaches talk about what the attacker could do with the information and money they find, they can just as easily press the issue of ransom with the facility. Because information in healthcare is so very specific as well as very sensitive and personal, healthcare data is likely to be ransomed for even more than other ransomware targets. This alone is reason enough to look into prevention of such a threat.
How To Prevent Ransomware Attacks
There are a lot of things one can do to prevent a ransomware attack. For a healthcare facility especially, these ideas need to already be in the works if you’re keen on avoiding the consequences of such attacks.
One of the most robust solutions is also one of the best for creating a stronger sense of security: getting a tool that is designed to protect against ransomware attacks as well as other threats is crucial for any healthcare facility. With a cybersecurity solution in place that focuses on things like endpoint detection and response as well as strengthening the vectors commonly known as source of attacks, like phishing emails, malicious files, and redirected websites.
Knowledge & Protocols
It’s not enough to say, “we don’t negotiate with cybercriminals”. When your business is on its last leg because of a cyber attack, you might do anything you can to get your data back. That’s why it’s crucial that as a healthcare facility, you are enforcing standards long before this happens. Your business, your staff, your facility can take control by enforcing compliance standards and implementing renewed protocols that help everyone avoid the risk of a ransomware attack. Ensuring your staff recognizes sources of these threats, like phishy emails, is one thing; to have them use best practices like employing URL filters and endpoint protection is all the better.
In Case Of Emergency
Ransomware isn’t perfect, and it often will fail if you have the right safeguards in place. But protection isn’t perfect either, and there’s never a full guarantee you won’t have a breach, or fall victim to a ransomware attack. In either case, you need a backup plan: when you’re forced to shell out for your data back, having ransomware warranties on your security programs can help relieve some of that detriment. When your data is breached, having a security system that responds immediately to the attack can keep your assets from becoming compromised. In any case, attacks require a response, and you have the ability to control that response by being prepared. After all, as a healthcare facility, preparation and response is part of the job, isn’t it?
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