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How to improve healthcare cyber security
Scope of Hacking Health Care Records
The hacking of health care records at the NHS and HPMC aren’t isolated cases. Prior to the widely published WannaCry ransomware attack, other cyber attacks had already wreaked havoc in the health care industry. Protenus reported that in 2016, the U.S. health care industry suffered one breach per day, affecting more than 27 million patient records.
For the month of April 2017 alone, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights reported 12 hacking incidents on hospitals and medical doctors’ offices, affecting 171,564 patient records.
The biggest hacking incident last month that was reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services happened at Harrisburg Gastroenterology Health Care Center, affecting 93,323 patient records. The patient information potentially accessed at Harrisburg Gastroenterology includes names of patients, demographic information, social security numbers, health insurance information, diagnostic information and clinical information.
Last May 18th, Neeley-Nemeth Barton Oaks Dental Group reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that its computer system was hacked, affecting 17,090 patient records.
Symantec's Global Ransomware and Business Special Report showed that from January 2015 to April 2016, Canada ranked third (16%) in terms of ransomware infections, next only to the United States (23%) and "Other Regions" (19%).
Verizon’s 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report showed that breaches in healthcare organizations came second (15%), next to data breaches in financial organizations (24%). In 2017, ransomware was ranked by Verizon as the number five most commonly used crimeware. “For the attacker, holding files for ransom is fast, low risk and easily monetizable – especially with Bitcoin to collect anonymous payment,” the Verizon report said.
5 Reasons Why Hacking of Health Care Records is Skyrocketing
Hospitals and medical doctors’ offices have become targets for ransomware attacks due to the following reasons:
1. Medical Records are Irreplaceable
Medical doctors’ offices and hospitals have irreplaceable digital documents that increase every hour, from appointments with patients to viewing imaging.
2. Willingness to Pay
Compared to other sectors, the medical sector appears to be more than willing to pay ransom for the fast recovery of their data.
3. Confidential Nature of the Documents
Medical doctors’ offices and hospitals’ records carry with them an abundance of confidential information about patients such as social security details, insurance details, birth dates, addresses, medical history and current medical situation. These confidential data can be sold to other opportunistic individuals or organizations at $10 per patient – an amount 10 times higher than what criminals earn from selling credit card details.
4. Loss of Reputation
Hacking exposes organizations their weakness. As such, many hospitals and medical doctors’ offices would rather pay and keep quiet than face the consequence of loss of reputation.
5. Vulnerable Software
Many medical doctors’ offices and hospitals use proprietary software. Cyber criminals exploit the vulnerabilities of these proprietary software solutions. In the case of the NHS WannaCry ransomware attack, the vulnerability of the operating system Windows XP was exploited. At the height of the WannaCry attack, NHS confirmed that 4.7% of the organizations’ computers still use Windows XP – an operating system released by Microsoft in 2001.
3 Effective Ways to Prevent Cyber Attacks on Medical Doctors’ Offices
Below are 3 preventive measures to stop cyber criminals from getting hold of your patients’ confidential data:
1. Backup data
One of the effective means to prevent cyber attacks, specifically ransomware attacks, is by backing up your data. Ransomware attackers have an advantage over their victims by encrypting valuable computer files and preventing victims to access these valuable files. If you’ve backup copies, it would be easy to bring back these files.
It’s important to make sure that these backup files are properly protected. Storing them offline is one alternative so that cyber criminals can’t access them. Another option is to use cloud services. These cloud services keep previous versions of files, enabling you to roll back to the unencrypted form.
2. Exercise digital hygiene
Preventing cyber attacks on medical doctors’ offices is similar to other disease prevention: hygiene is essential. In the medical office set-up, digital hygiene refers to maintaining one’s computer hardware and software solutions as secured as possible.
Examples of digital hygiene include updating your hardware systems, installing the latest patches or software security updates, and not clicking unfamiliar links or files in emails. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of computers were unharmed by WannaCry ransomware by simply using the latest operating system and installing the latest patch or security update.
3. Contain the infection
Containing a malware is much like containing an infectious disease outbreak. In such a case, a rapid response such as isolating the infected computers can make a difference. Many ransomwares like WannaCry have a worm component that’s capable of spreading itself within computer networks without the need for user interaction. In handling the WannaCry ransomware attack, Spain’s Computer Emergency Response Team CCN-CERT, for instance, recommended isolating from the network or turning off as appropriate computers without support or patch.
Contact us today if you want to protect your hospital or medical office from cyber attacks.
Steve E. Driz, I.S.P., ITCP