The healthcare system at risk. A challenge for IT security.

Risks in the healthcare system have increased since the pandemic and are estimated to be even higher by 2022. Find out why the healthcare system is at risk.

Cyber attackers are always on the lookout for new methods of attack. Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, hackers have taken advantage of this global catastrophe to wreak havoc; they have used publicity and prevention campaigns to commit their misdeeds. The digital transformation due to the pandemic has led to cyberattacks becoming more and more frequent in the healthcare system; and by 2022, it is estimated that they will be even more aggressive. Find out how!

healthcare system
healthcare system

The losses in the healthcare system after the pandemic

Even before the 2020 pandemic, the healthcare system was a target for cybercriminals; in the last 5 years the healthcare system has lost more than 5.5 billion dollars in damages caused by cyberattacks (according to data from Beazley breach Insights). In the same way, this study places the healthcare sector as the main target of cyber-attacks after the pandemic; it was assured that there was a 150% increase in cyber-attacks on the healthcare sector after the start of the pandemic.

Now, regarding the types of attacks, it was found that 10% of all these attacks were through malware or hacking; if we look at it from a logical point of view, it is an effective strategy of criminals, since the health system handles a large amount of valuable information; if this information were to be lost by a ransomware it could be very serious for the health system. In addition to this, the risk of these attacks increasing is very likely. By 2025 it is estimated that cyber-attacks on the healthcare system will reach 68% due to the increase in the number of interconnected medical devices.

The WHO (World Health Organization) has advocated to encourage the increase of the budget in the area of cybersecurity; it is the task of senior leaders to provide budgets to the different health organizations in each country; all this in order to strengthen security to perhaps the highest priority area in a society, public health.

The most frequent attacks.

According to several surveys specialized in cybersecurity, the most frequent types of cyberattacks were:

  • Malwares: malicious software that was illegally leaked into the devices of healthcare institutions
  • Ransomware: thousands of patient data and information were encrypted and a ransom was demanded in order to release such information; ransoms that cost healthcare institutions large amounts of money.
  • Data-related threat: this is the leakage of confidential data.
  • Disinformation: this is a technique that does not involve much science; basically it was all that erroneous or exaggerated information that was exposed to the public to cause panic.
  • Phishing: this was used to deceive people, spreading false information about the pandemic and attaching malicious links or attachments with viruses, all posing as health organizations.

What are the most vulnerable devices ?

Thinking more about the machinery implemented in health centers, perhaps we think: How could it be hacked? And the truth is yes; but let’s see how some devices work:

  • Mammography or x-ray machines: these machines are usually connected to a computer in order to read and interpret the results; therefore, there is a possibility that the attacker could enter the device by hacking the password and thus readjust the specifications to cause inaccurate readings.
  • Cardiac devices: pacemakers are full of vulnerabilities as they use software and hardware from other vendors.
  • Implanted defibrillators: these, like pacemakers, have security vulnerabilities. They are monitored by radio signals which are prone to attack.

Why is the healthcare system a target for cyber attackers?

There are numerous reasons why the healthcare system is a target for cybercriminals; some of these are:

  • Workers are unable to change their practices for new technologies: simply put, healthcare professionals have very tight and time-consuming schedules; therefore, they are less likely to devote some of that time to following IT security procedures; this makes them more vulnerable to threats.
  • Private patient information is worth a lot to cybercriminals: Healthcare facilities store a lot of private patient information; this information is worth a lot of money to attackers because hackers sell this information to third parties. However, IT workers have realized that it is even more convenient to pay for computer security methods; compared to ransom data for ransomware encryption.
  • Medical devices are vulnerable: as we named in the previous point; some medical equipment also runs software that is vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Attackers know that these medical devices do not store information; however, in the worst case scenario they can take control of the machines and prevent them from being used in emergencies.
  • Medical personnel have little knowledge about cybersecurity: As mentioned above, healthcare personnel have a long and busy schedule; therefore, they do not have the time required to invest in cybersecurity training for employees. As a result, these same workers are often unaware of the actions they perform on the web; this can put the healthcare institution for which they work at risk.

Prevention is the healthcare system’s best ally

There are several experts in the field of cybersecurity who claim that security in the healthcare system can be improved by implementing simple measures; this includes training staff to alert them of the dangers when logging into the healthcare facility system. Another simple option is two-step authentication when logging in to systems; at the same time changing passwords periodically and using passwords that are difficult to guess.

At the same time, it is important for healthcare facilities to have an incident response plan in place; this includes gathering evidence and involving relevant authorities in the area.

Looking back on this article, it is easy to see that there is a serious information security failure in the healthcare sector; both because there has been a lack of investment in this area, and because of poor employee training; however, we should know that the future for cybersecurity in this area is bright; because it has been recognized that it is needed, and many countries are already beginning to implement new measures.

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