Helping healthcare combat cyber attackers

Hospitals and other healthcare organizations around the globe are under immense pressure as they test and care for patients with COVID-19. They are also under siege by cyber attackers.

healthcare cyber attackers

This month, Interpol released a warning to hospitals and other medical organizations saying they are seeing increasing targeted ransomware attacks aimed at these entities.

While cybersecurity is traditionally considered an IT issue, it is also a patient safety issue. Ransomware and other “disruptionware” attacks are especially dangerous for healthcare organizations at this time because the tolerance for downtime is lower than ever. If systems were to be held for ransom and prevented from functioning, it could literally become a matter of life and death.

While CIOs and CISOs have a significant role in ensuring front line healthcare workers have the tools and technologies they need to treat patients, healthcare organizations must also prioritize protecting medical devices and critical infrastructure during this crisis.

Here are key strategies that can protect healthcare organizations from cyber attackers:

1. Educate employees on phishing attacks

One attack that we’re already seeing pop up frequently is phishing that leverages concern over COVID-19 to get users to click on malicious links or files. Some examples of this include fake advisories from the CDC or other healthcare organization, from HR, and charities soliciting donations, among many other things.

Phishing attacks account for more than 80% of successful attacks on organizations, so educating employees of this specific threat during this sensitive time is key. Phishing scams capitalizing on the pandemic have already emerged, such as one seeking to gain access to healthcare workers’ credentials through signing up for a COVID-19 seminar.

2. Understand what new devices are entering the network

As healthcare organizations look to ramp up their operations to prepare for treating the victims of this disease, many are bringing on new equipment and devices to help. For instance, many hospitals are requesting thousands of ventilators, and may also be adding new hospital beds and diagnostic equipment. Ensure your organization has a full asset inventory of what devices are being connected, so they can take the necessary steps to protect this rapidly expanding attack surface.

3. Patch!

While it’s always important implement best practices for cybersecurity hygiene, it is now more important than ever. Limit the number of entry points for attack, including patching vulnerable devices that have been in use for a while and those that have been added to help support healthcare workers during this time.

While speed is important in delivering new devices to doctors and patients, organizations should also consider ways to mitigate risk with network controls by preventing vulnerable device access to networks shared with critical machinery or information.

4. Employ network segmentation technologies

Unfortunately, in today’s world successful attacks are a matter of when, not if. While it’s important to take steps to prevent an attacker from getting inside, employing a network segmentation strategy can limit the spread of a successful attack. Many healthcare organizations have started on these projects already, but there has never been a more important time to finish security implementations in order to effectively protect themselves against cyber attackers.

For those considering a network segmentation strategy for the first time, consider time to value as key in today’s environment. Tools that provide visibility and monitoring can offer faster time to value versus tools that focus solely on enforcement.

5. Update your business continuity plan

Finally, it is wise to review, update and test business continuity plans. That way, organizations are fully prepared to respond in the event of attack. People are key part of this process, confirming all people involved are clear on processes and procedures will ensure an efficient and effective response. For those who do not have a business continuity plan or disaster response plan in place, now would be a good time to consider outlining what that process would look like.

Hospitals and healthcare organizations were already facing an uptick of attacks through 2019 and going into 2020. But given the COVID-19 crisis, it is now more important than ever that they take the necessary precautions to protect our healthcare organizations.

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