Ransomware attacks present a huge risk to healthcare providers. When malicious actors can gain control of private information and data, it can be leaked, stolen, or held hostage. This vulnerability means that hospitals that rely on the network infrastructure to provide patient care are often prime targets for cybercriminals.

When critical infrastructure comes under attack from cybersecurity threats, hospitals are at risk. Most hospitals store vast amounts of user data and information vital for patient health and continued operations. 

Hospital ransomware attacks can leave providers unable to offer vital services to patients. IT directors and cybersecurity professionals who want to prevent hospital ransomware attacks need to understand the threat that they face.

What Is Ransomware?

The internet contains a great deal of code created by malicious individuals. Spyware, adware, and other types of viruses present a real threat to users if they aren’t dealt with. 

Computer viruses can cause catastrophic damage if allowed to gain access to a network. This compromise can result in lost work, stolen information, and the inability of users to access their systems.

While some types of malicious software target systems to destroy or steal information, ransomware is designed to lock users out of their devices by encrypting the data and demanding payment or other forms of compensation for the owners to regain access.

By hijacking user systems, criminals who deploy ransomware attacks can completely halt operations at even the biggest companies. This threat means that IT directors and cybersecurity professionals should be aware of potential risks when operating on the network.

Some famous ransomware attacks that have occurred include:

  • Bad Rabbit
  • Locky
  • Ryuk
  • TeslaCrypt
  • WannaCry

Hospitals and healthcare organizations are especially susceptible to ransomware attacks because they rely on large pools of private user data to operate.

How Do Hospital Ransomware Attacks Occur?

IT directors and cybersecurity professionals working for hospitals have to be aware of the potential threats that they are dealing with. Decision-makers who want to prevent ransomware attacks from derailing their ability to provide care to patients need to understand how and why hospital ransomware attacks occur.

Threat actors that are working to manipulate systems often use social engineering in the form of phishing emails, phone calls, and surveillance. Malicious code, hidden vulnerabilities, and seemingly simple mistakes made by employees can pose real threats to hospitals and their ability to deliver care.

Opportunistic Attacks

Malicious actors continuously probe and monitor networks, looking for ways to exploit them to their ends. 

While some hackers have specific targets in mind, others are simply looking to feel out which services are well-protected and which are not. When they find any network security lacking, they will deploy any attacks that they feel have a chance of succeeding.

Indiscriminate cyberattacks are usually created to affect as many systems as possible in as short a time as they can. While ransomware is generally deployed with a predetermined target in mind, healthcare organizations should be aware that malicious actors are always looking for easy exploits to take advantage of.

By penetrating hospital security systems, ransomware attacks leave healthcare providers with little recourse when demands are made. 

IT directors and cybersecurity professionals need to have systems in place for ensuring random penetration attacks don’t offer cybercriminals exploits that they can use to gain access to information on the network.

Software Exploits

Hospital ransomware attacks often take advantage of existing exploits in user-level code that give them access to restricted networks. This strategy means that all users and their data are vulnerable when accessing infected systems. Malicious actors can use these exploits to access and encrypt data that they want to hold hostage.

Software, firmware, and operating systems present vulnerabilities that IT directors and cybersecurity professionals need to be aware of. 

Denial of access attacks are generally built to exploit existing flaws in hospital cybersecurity. Malicious actors looking for potential weaknesses and vulnerabilities will take advantage of known software issues to attack hospital networks.

Hospitals need to be aware of how software exploits are used to take advantage of unsuspecting users. Exploits are often found in critical software such as remote desktop protocols and communication applications. Any devices connected to critical network components are usually at risk. 

Targeted attacks generally use flaws in security or unseen vulnerabilities that exist in software, allowing malicious actors to take control of systems and leave users unable to gain access.

Social Engineering

While software exploits take advantage of security flaws inherent in networks to deploy their payloads, user error and flawed internal processes often give malicious actors the chance they need to gain access. Hospitals need to be aware of common practices used by malicious actors attempting to gain access to insecure systems.

Ransomware attacks often succeed because of mistakes made by network users and operators. Hackers use attack vectors to deploy malicious payloads to vulnerable networks. Threat actors who are working to manipulate systems often use social engineering in the form of phishing emails, text messages, and surveillance. 

IT directors and cybersecurity professionals should have security measures for protecting their networks from payloads hidden in web pages or pop-ups. 

Suspicious calls and texts can lead to data breaches that result in unauthorized access to the system. Healthcare providers should understand that clicking on potentially harmful links or attachments can have dangerous consequences for their patients.

The Dangers of Hospital Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks can have a debilitating impact on hospitals, leading to worse experiences and longer care times. This disruption results in a dangerous environment for patients and presents a direct threat to their lives. 

Losing access to computers and network communication within hospitals can lead to testing delays, canceled procedures, and critical systems being shut down. This type of attack forces hospitals to divert resources away from where they’re needed most.

Ransomware attacks are costly for hospitals in many ways. Loss of records due to private data being compromised makes it difficult for healthcare providers to manage their patient workload and offer adequate care. 

Modern ransomware can lock healthcare workers out of patient data that they need, leading to lower quality of care and an increased number of patient deaths. 

How to Prevent Hospital Ransomware Attacks

Within the healthcare environment, disruptions to operations can be disastrous for patients and healthcare providers alike. Loss of important records and data, delays in patient care, and loss of life are all potential consequences when hospital networks aren’t properly secured. 

The dangers posed by hospital ransomware attacks mean that IT directors and cybersecurity professionals should avoid them at all costs. 

When hospitals become the targets of ransomware, patients’ lives are on the line. Healthcare institutions need to make the proper investments in software updates, employee training, and infrastructure to ensure they don’t become the victims of ransomware-based cyberattacks.

Manage Updates

Outdated software and firmware leave healthcare networks vulnerable. Malicious actors can easily exploit software to deploy ransomware attacks across compromised networks. IT directors and cybersecurity professionals should develop policies and practices for managing vital systems and keeping them up to date. 

Limiting the number of tools that employees are allowed to use and providing specific steps for making sure important programs are up to date will reinforce best practices when it comes to user-level software. 

Ransomware attacks are easier to avoid when hospitals use updated software. Security patches prevent malicious actors from using potential exploits and give hospitals better protection against cyberthreats. 

Otherwise, cybercriminals will find security holes and use them to gain access to important data, leaving caregivers to tend to their patients without access to health records and other vital information.

Provide Education

Common mistakes made by healthcare professionals can leave important patient data vulnerable to attack. Developing consistent and clear messaging about the importance of cybersecurity and offering ongoing training and development for employees will go a long way in limiting the potential for ransomware attacks to occur.

Users should be aware of best practices when accessing and using important information. Lack of knowledge should be addressed. Healthcare providers should know to avoid using weak credentials and giving out important information without the proper protocols.

IT directors and cybersecurity professionals who want to protect their networks from potential ransomware attacks should offer employees ongoing support, education and awareness training, and access to documentation, so they have the knowledge they need to succeed in their roles. 

This approach means continuous outreach and communicating important concepts in web security and safety.

Build Redundancy

For healthcare organizations, losing essential patient data and records means the difference between life and death. Data that isn’t properly secured is vulnerable to misuse by malicious actors. 

When dealing with network architecture, IT leaders should be aware of potential shortcomings in their systems and have processes in place to avoid disruptions to care.

If ransomware attacks do occur, hospitals should have fast and secure recovery methods in place so that operations can continue. This approach means defining steps for recovery and outlining how individuals in specific roles should proceed when attacks occur. 

By building redundancies into their network architecture, hospitals can ensure they don’t fall victim to cyber threats. 

Hospitals that build their network infrastructure with strong backup and recovery protocols are less vulnerable to malicious attacks. IT directors and cybersecurity professionals should use checklists to guide users when accessing and storing information. 

Backups should be done at regular intervals. Daily, weekly, and monthly backups ensure hospitals can retrieve essential user data that’s been lost or stolen.

Follow Data

When hospitals don’t track and manage their important data, they can easily miss potential threats to their network security. This ignorance leaves them open to ransomware attacks that negatively affect their operations.

Defining methods for reviewing and auditing healthcare data for potential misuse offers decision-makers within the healthcare environment better oversight when dealing with potential cyberthreats. This approach means considering how data is used, who has access to it, and when.

IT directors and cybersecurity professionals who want to build secure networks should do ongoing tracking and monitoring to control who has access to their systems. 

Considering access points and how network traffic and flows move from one to the other will give decision-makers better judgment when deploying their cybersecurity systems. 

Make Investments

Within healthcare, the repercussions of poor infrastructure mean that patients won’t receive proper delivery of service. The lack of proper investments in infrastructure makes patient data especially vulnerable to ransomware attacks.

Network security and infrastructure should be a priority for hospitals. Network routers, firewalls, and connected devices that receive proper attention from IT directors and cybersecurity professionals are better protected from potential cyber threats. 

Old devices that no longer receive important software or firmware updates leave users vulnerable to attack. Malicious actors will target networks that rely on outdated or faulty equipment. All devices that communicate with the network should receive ongoing maintenance to ensure they don’t create network vulnerabilities.

This risk means it’s essential for decision-makers to invest in infrastructure. Hiring the right staff or outsourcing, if necessary, ensures caregivers have the needed support when using the network for important operations. By finding the proper equipment and support ecosystem, hospitals can build better frameworks for preventing ransomware attacks.

Better Ransomware Protection with Touchstone Security

Are you a director of IT or a cybersecurity professional looking for better protection from potential hospital ransomware attacks? 

Touchstone Security is a trusted cybersecurity partner for mid-sized to large hospitals that need to secure their vital patient data. Our core services give hospitals and healthcare organizations better protection against potential threats to their patients.

At Touchstone Security, we know it isn’t easy to find cybersecurity solutions that fit your needs. Our state-of-the-art managed security services were designed to make it easier for our partners to measure and secure their network traffic. 

We offer risk assessment, data management, and backup and recovery solutions with streamlined environments that allow you to scale operations effectively.

At Touchstone Security, our goal is to reduce the complexity of information security for clients. We provide cybersecurity programs for healthcare organizations, banks, and financial institutions. If you’re looking for better cloud security, look no further than Touchstone Security.

Contact us today to get a healthcare-focused ransomware risk assessment from a qualified CISO.