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Ransomware Hits Hospital System

Ardent Health Services, which operates 30 hospitals in 6 states, fell victim to a ransomware attack in late November that caused major disruptions to life saving care. According to The HIPAA Journal, because of the attack, the hospitals’ networks were taken offline and user access was suspended to its information technology applications, including the software used to document patient care. Healthcare workers reported having to move critical patients from affected emergency rooms to other hospitals, putting certain procedures on pause.

While there are no deaths directly associated to a cybersecurity attack, there are deaths attributed to the impact of ransomware incidents in healthcare systems, such as deaths caused by the delay of lifesaving services. Attacks to healthcare systems like this one are becoming more common.

So, why do cyber criminals target hospital systems and what can these systems do to better protect themselves and their patients?

1. Sensitive Data: Healthcare providers store a wealth of sensitive information protected by HIPAA laws, including patients’ health records, payment details, and personal identifiers. The aggregation of critical data in one place makes these organizations attractive targets for cybercriminals.

2. Confidentiality and Continuity of Care: Hospitals are legally bound to maintain patient confidentiality and any breach can result in severe consequences, including termination and lawsuits. Cyber criminals exploit this vulnerability, knowing that hospitals may pay ransoms swiftly to protect patients and avoid disruptions to life-saving treatments.

3. Inadequate Security on Interconnected Networks: Healthcare systems heavily rely on interconnected devices for patient care. Unfortunately, many of these devices lack sufficient security measures, making them easy targets for hackers seeking access to sensitive data and the disruption of organizational networks.

4. Lack of Preparedness: Healthcare systems often struggle with limited time and resources to update and train employees on cybersecurity best practices. With the increasing reliance on online platforms, unprepared systems become vulnerable to cyberattacks, leading to potentially dangerous consequences.

What can healthcare system do to protect their patients and themselves?

1. Update All Systems: Regularly update systems and execute patches, especially of antivirus software, to prevent vulnerabilities that threats actors can exploit. Outdated operating systems on medical devices cannot only compromise the ability to deliver quality care but leave openings for cyber criminals to access and disrupt an environment.

2. Plan for Breaches: Healthcare systems must recognize the inevitability of cyberattacks and have a comprehensive plan in place to quickly address them. Regularly backing up all your systems allows for quick recovery of your business’ data in the event of an attack. Creating a Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR) and Incident Response Plans are critical to making sure your team is prepared for an incident. While it’s crucial to have these plans, it’s also important to regularly test them to ensure that everyone is prepared and understands their role in the event of an attack. If you do not have a fully staffed and dedicated cybersecurity team, an incident response retainer can also be a beneficial service to prepare for the worst.

3. Employee Training: According to Security Today, 88% of security breaches are caused by human error. Staff training is crucial to mitigating vulnerabilities and reducing the likelihood of a successful social engineering attack. Educate employees to recognize and avoid phishing scams, enforce strong password policies, and discourage using work devices for personal online activities.

4. Work with a Trusted IT and Cybersecurity Provider: Engage with a reputable IT and cybersecurity provider that is experienced in providing support to regulated industries, like healthcare. Providers like Entara offer comprehensive solutions, including security awareness training, backup services, incident response retainers, and infrastructure monitoring to protect organizations from cyber threats.

Take Action Now

Entara stands ready to support healthcare organizations that are ready to prioritize not only the health of their patients, but the health of their security posture. By leveraging our expertise, providers can fortify their defenses against cyber threats, ensuring a secure environment for patient care. Contact Entara’s team for more information and discover how we can seamlessly integrate with your organization, allowing you to focus on what you do best-caring for your patients.

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