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Is the healthcare sector at risk from ransomware?

Ransomware attacks continued as a significant threat to healthcare organizations in 2022 though the true scale of it remains an enigma. Victims of ransomware attacks do not always report the incidents as involving ransomware, and ransomware gangs do not publicly disclose attacks when ransoms are paid. And as in other sectors some ransomware gangs choose to conduct extortion-only attacks, where sensitive data is exfiltrated from networks and a ransom demand is issued to prevent its publication or sale, but malware is not used to encrypt files. The decision whether or not to encrypt appears to be taken on an attack-by-attack basis.

Doctor talking to a patient

By and large, the tantalizing target on healthcare’s back has been attributable to outdated IT systems, fewer cybersecurity protocols and IT staff, valuable data, and the pressing need for medical practices and hospitals to pay ransoms quickly to regain data.

And 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

So, what is ransomware?

Simply put this is a malicious attack against a network where the criminals get access to data and either steal it, threaten to delete it, or encrypt it. The criminals will then demand a payment for the return of the data. Imagine how this could affect your business – sensitive financial data relating to your customers, suppliers or even your own company, commercially sensitive data relating to staff, the operating of your business or contacts with others - these could all be compromised or lost.


The reality is that ransomware is now viewed as a business model and many entities behind these attacks will present themselves as being on the same side as the victim. So, in return for the payment your business will often be supported through a process which will return the data that has been encrypted / stolen. It is worthy of note that paying the ransom does not guarantee the return of the data and certainly does not guarantee that it won’t be sold on or published at some point in the future. Also, your network will still be infected, and you are more likely to be targeted again in the future.


The paying of the ransom has moral and ethical undertones that may not be immediately apparent when you are faced with such an attack. Consider the fact that you may be financially supporting terrorists or criminals by paying the ransom.


Can you protect yourself from these attacks?

Ransomware is always preceded by an attack on the network itself, commonly through use of stolen credentials, a phishing e-mail or brute force attack. These attacks are increasing in complexity and sophistication meaning that defence against these dark arts needs continual review. But the key points for protection to remember are

  1. Make your network resilient and practice good cyber hygiene – using Cyber Essentials (CE) principles. As a member of the ECRC we will guide you through the process of preparing for Cyber Essentials as part of our Little Steps Program. Once completed we will refer you to one of our partners to complete the certification process. And successful accreditation brings with it £25000 worth of Cyber Insurance.

  2. Make sure Staff Awareness Training is up to date – spotting a phishing e-mail early will prevent a lot of pain further on down the line. Have a look at our affordable Staff Awareness Packages that are available – high quality and provided by highly trained undergraduate students.

  3. Make sure all staff know the symptoms of an ongoing ransomware attack and respond quickly to it using a prepared incident response plan. You can download a template from our site.

  4. Identify common points of failure across the network – patch vulnerabilities and restrict access from malicious sites and IP addresses – speak with you MSPs about this and don’t assume that it will be done automatically. The important thing here is to understand where your main vulnerabilities are, then deal with them first.

What next?

The impact of a successful attack against your website or network can be catastrophic and lead to website downtime, loss of data and permanent loss of reputation. But all is not lost.

Here at the centre, we would recommend that you consider

  1. Join our community for free . You will be supported through implementing the changes you need to make to protect your organisation.

  2. Consider how we can help your own supply chain and customers – it would be great if you could look at promoting the centre on our behalf. Again – contact us to find out more.

Reporting a live cyber-attack 24/7

If you are a business, charity or other organisation which is currently suffering a live cyber-attack (in progress), please call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 immediately. This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


Reporting a cyber-attack which isn't ongoing

Please report online to Action Fraud, the UK's national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime. You can report cybercrime online at any time using the online reporting tool, which will guide you through simple questions to identify what has happened. Action Fraud advisors can also provide the help, support, and advice you need.


Alternatively, you can call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 (textphone 0300 123 2050).

The contents of this website are provided for general information only and are not intended to replace specific professional advice relevant to your situation. The intention of The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East is to encourage cyber resilience by raising issues and disseminating information on the experiences and initiatives of others. Articles on the website cannot by their nature be comprehensive and may not reflect most recent legislation, practice, or application to your circumstances. The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East provides affordable services and Trusted Partners if you need specific support. For specific questions please contact us.

The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East does not accept any responsibility for any loss which may arise from reliance on information or materials published on this document. The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East is not responsible for the content of external internet sites that link to this site or which are linked from it.

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