In recent years, the healthcare sector has witnessed an unprecedented surge in cyberattacks.
As medical institutions embrace digital technologies to enhance patient care and streamline operations, they inadvertently expose themselves to new threats. The convergence of sensitive patient data, outdated security systems, and sophisticated hacking techniques has created a perfect storm for cybercriminals seeking to exploit vulnerabilities for personal gain.
Here we explore the growing menace of cyberattacks in the healthcare sector and the urgent need for robust security measures to safeguard not only data but also the lives of countless patients.
The Evolving Landscape of Cyber Threats
The healthcare sector's rapid digitization has introduced numerous benefits, from electronic health records (EHRs) to telemedicine and connected medical devices. However, this interconnected ecosystem has become an attractive target for cybercriminals seeking to steal sensitive patient information or disrupt critical medical services. Ransomware attacks have been particularly prevalent, paralyzing healthcare facilities and demanding exorbitant payments to restore access.
This week saw another high-profile UK cyber-attack within the sector as two UK ambulance services’ patient record systems were disrupted in a threat of an undisclosed nature forcing staff to use traditional analogue systems to carry on working.
Impact on Patient Care:
The consequences of cyberattacks on the healthcare sector extend far beyond monetary losses. Patient safety is at stake, as disruptions in services and the potential manipulation of medical devices can lead to life-threatening situations. Using the ambulance example above, it is entirely possible that patients’ lives could have been put at risk through the failure of a key patient record system. In addition to this, compromised patient data can be used for identity theft, fraudulent activities, and even blackmail, putting vulnerable individuals at risk.
A major challenge in securing healthcare systems is the presence of outdated and vulnerable infrastructure. Many medical institutions struggle to keep up with the latest security updates and fail to implement multi-factor authentication and encryption protocols. Additionally, human errors, such as falling victim to phishing attacks, expose sensitive information to malicious actors.
What is the scale of the problem?
Whilst the true scale of it remains an enigma – due to continued underreporting across all sectors - 2021 stats from a US Cyber company (Herjavec Group) make for stark reading.
Healthcare provider attacks have more than quadrupled since 2017
Attacks don’t just steal or encrypt data – they are now targeting internet enabled medical devices (MRI scanners) and interfering with their productivity
It is highly likely that cyber-attacks have resulted in deaths and serious injury of patients
93% of healthcare organisations had suffered a cyber enabled data breach over the past 3 years. Two thirds had had 5 or more.
Most healthcare providers felt ill-equipped to deal with the threat of cyber-attacks against their organisation
Mitigating Cyber Risks:
To counter the escalating cyber threats, healthcare institutions must adopt a proactive approach to cybersecurity. This includes conducting regular risk assessments, investing in state-of-the-art cybersecurity tools, and providing continuous training to staff to recognize and report potential threats. Collaborating with cybersecurity experts and sharing information about new attack vectors can strengthen the industry's collective defence.
What should you do next?
As the healthcare sector continues to leverage technological advancements to improve patient care, it must be equally committed to fortifying its cybersecurity measures. Cyberattacks in the healthcare sector pose a clear and present danger to patient safety and data privacy.
By acknowledging the severity of the threat, prioritizing investment in cybersecurity, and fostering a culture of vigilance, medical institutions can protect not only their own operations but also the lives and well-being of countless patients who rely on their services.
Here at the Eastern Cyber Resilience Centre, a police- led, Home Office supported company, we are committed to helping organisations become more resilient to the impact of cybercrime.
You can join us for free and receive regular updates which include the latest guidance, news, and security updates. You will be signed up to a free online course that will gradually take you through the range of free services and guidance supplied by the National Cyber Security Centre. You will also be able to take advantage of our range of affordable cyber services that are provided by our regional cadre of university undergraduates.
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Reporting Cyber Crime
Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).