Contributed by Eddie Myers, Crothall Healthcare Program Manager for Cybersecurity Solutions
Cyberattacks are a big problem in the healthcare industry, with a high proportion of hackers targeting hospitals and other providers for different types of cyberattacks. Hackers are attracted to the healthcare industry for many reasons, including the large amount of personal data associated with healthcare providers. Hospitals also have an open atmosphere, and hackers may be able to simply walk into a waiting room with WiFi and begin the process of accessing an entire network of computers with sensitive information or devices with essential functions. As a result, cybersecurity in healthcare requires many safeguards.
Medical devices are also particularly vulnerable because they don't have many of the security safeguards that come standard on devices like laptops and cell phones. By connecting to a medical device like an MRI machine, a skilled hacker can then access the other devices connected to the same network, which could potentially impact thousands of machines at the same time. To combat cyberattacks and create a robust cybersecurity system, healthcare providers need to understand where they are most vulnerable and prepare safeguards in those areas.
Cybersecurity in Healthcare: Where are healthcare systems most vulnerable to cyberattacks?
Ransomware is a huge focus of cybersecurity in healthcare. Ransomware allows a hacker to take control of a device, blocking out other users from accessing any of its functions until they meet the hacker's demands, such as wiring them a certain amount of money. Medical devices are an especially vulnerable target for hackers that use ransomware, largely because it is easy to access multiple devices at the same time. As for hijacking, a medical device also creates the possibility of putting someone's health and potentially even their life at risk, many hackers reason that this will motivate their victim to pay the ransom quickly.
Ransomware has another key function requiring special attention for organizations focused on improving cybersecurity in healthcare. Hackers can also use ransomware on medical computer networks, where they take information hostage instead of just hijacking device functionality. A hacker may be able to prevent doctors from accessing notes, treatment plans, medication allergies, and other important details about their patients. This can also disrupt communication between colleagues, so it is essential that healthcare providers have a back-up plan for how they will share important information in the event of a cyberattack.
Phishing is another big concern for those involved with cybersecurity in healthcare. Healthcare systems are especially vulnerable to phishing because of the large number of people involved in the healthcare industry. Phishing takes advantage of human error to gather personal information or spread malware onto company computers. Hackers develop fake personas and use online communication like email to reach out to healthcare providers, hoping to trick them into downloading a file. This malware can come in the form of surveillance software that traces their keystrokes, mining passwords from an individual computer, or other malicious software that creates a remote network gateway.
Hackers can target healthcare professionals through phishing because individual associates often have access to highly valuable protected health information, also known as PHI. Once they have one associate's username and password, determined hackers can easily download large amounts of PHI. Once hackers have obtained PHI, they can then use it for various nefarious purposes such as committing insurance fraud, stealing financial information, and creating fake identities for criminals.
Though cryptocurrency may seem like a futuristic aspect of financial services, it actually plays a key role in cybersecurity in healthcare. Healthcare providers are also open to attacks from hackers who want to use medical devices and networks to mine bitcoin. Mining bitcoin is a way of generating cryptocurrency by verifying different transactions and contributing to bitcoin's overall security. This process takes a large amount of electricity and computing power, so hackers will often attempt to compromise digital devices and take control of their power supply.
Hackers can target medical devices and drain their energy by using them to mine bitcoin, eventually causing the machine to malfunction. Cryptocurrency malware often runs in the background of a medical device's existing software, so it may go undiscovered for quite some time. As a healthcare administrator, you should pay attention to the standard processing power of different devices on your network. By doing so, you will be better able to notice if a system suddenly slows down. This sudden slowdown could, in fact, be due to cryptocurrency mining malware.
What hospitals can do to combat cyberattacks?
There are many strategies providers can employ to boost cybersecurity in their healthcare organizations. Healthcare providers can protect their devices and their patients' information by instituting a few key safeguards and regularly researching best practices for cybersecurity.
Hackers' methods constantly evolve, so it is important that you also leverage new technology to your advantage in the fight to prevent cyberattacks. Carefully monitoring device activity is a great way to find out if a device has been compromised, but there are a few other strategies you can use to limit a hacker's access to or even prevent them from gaining access to vital healthcare networks in the first place.
Update software regularly
Cybersecurity in healthcare depends, in part, on regular updates to software systems. Hackers look for vulnerabilities in device software, but once a developer becomes aware of that vulnerability, they often release a patch that solves the issue. However, if you do not update your software to take advantage of the solutions developers have released, it still remains completely vulnerable.
Hackers target devices and networks with outdated software because they are full of unsolved vulnerabilities that hackers already know how to exploit. Updating all software regularly and using recent technology allows healthcare systems to have as much protection as possible. Simply by regularly updating your software, you will improve your systems' security.
Limit device access
Take a close look at your medical devices to make sure they are not inadvertently inviting hackers.
Many medical devices are so vulnerable because they do not limit which other devices can connect with it. Adjust device settings so that they can only interact with other essential medical devices. Important medical equipment should only communicate with trusted sources, and limiting the kinds of devices that can connect wirelessly can provide additional obstacles for a hacker.
Use multiple networks
Having various networks available can also provide an invaluable boost to cybersecurity in healthcare systems. Using multiple separate networks for medical devices can help prevent the spread of a virus if one device gets infected. A hospital that has thousands of devices on one network would be much more vulnerable than a hospital that distributes all devices across several different networks, just in case one was compromised.
Cybersecurity in healthcare also means giving all hospital staff the knowledge they need to react to hacking attempts appropriately. This is the case for clinical staff and frontline workers alike. In a busy hospital setting, cybersecurity is often the last thing on staff members' minds. After all, the staff is focused on the care and comfort of patients and their families. Unintentional ignorance of cybersecurity threats can leave a hospital even more vulnerable to attacks.
Hacking techniques like phishing are often so successful because the frontline staff does not expect to interact with a hacker during their daily activities. Providing cybersecurity training for all healthcare staff can help them recognize suspicious behavior and learn how to assess risks when interacting with emails.
Test your network
One of the best ways to prepare for a cyberattack is to hire a white knight hacker to attempt to infiltrate your healthcare network and explain how they did so. By hiring someone to seek out network vulnerabilities, you can anticipate how a hacker might approach your specific institution. These experts can recommend cybersecurity tools that identify and respond to threats automatically and reporting attempted attacks.
Interested in learning about Crothall's clinical engineers can help at your hospital?