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What is Cybersecurity in Healthcare?

What is Healthcare Cybersecurity?

Healthcare cybersecurity encompasses the strategies, practices, and technologies aimed at protecting sensitive patient data and healthcare IT infrastructure from cyber threats. This includes securing networks, applications, and Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) devices against unauthorized access and cyberattacks.

Moreover, "cybersecurity in healthcare" is critical for the operational resilience of healthcare providers. It ensures that medical services remain uninterrupted and safe from digital threats that could compromise patient care. By implementing robust cybersecurity measures, healthcare organizations protect themselves against data breaches and cyberattacks, thus upholding their responsibility to provide secure and reliable care.

Why Healthcare Cybersecurity is Important?

The importance of cybersecurity in healthcare cannot be overstated. With the increase in connected care, healthcare organizations (HDOs) face not only traditional IT threats but also threats targeting medical devices and cyber-physical systems (CPS). Compromised healthcare devices could lead to dire outcomes such as disrupted patient care or even loss of life. Moreover, robust cybersecurity practices help maintain patient trust and compliance with stringent regulations like HIPAA, which safeguards patient information and imposes heavy penalties for non-compliance.

Healthcare Cybersecurity Challenges

The World Health Organization (WHO) have reported a five-fold increase in attacks since the beginning of 2020, while the FBI have warned of an “imminent cyber-crime threat to hospitals and healthcare providers.”

In 2021, Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) became the target of a Conti ransomware attack, causing IT systems nationwide to be shut down. The most significant attack on a health service system, the breach published hundreds of confidential patient records and corporate documents. Requiring four months to fully recover, HSE sustained numerous damages. With such devastating consequences, healthcare organizations simply cannot afford downtime – a fact cyber-criminals know and exploit.

Tasked with defending the digital systems and data that frontline workers rely on, security teams face a growing challenge. With digital infrastructure spanning everything from SaaS applications and email platforms to MRI machines and remote patient monitoring devices, organizations’ digital environments and the security stacks designed to defend them have never been more fragmented

In addition, IoT devices implemented to improve efficiency and patient outcomes are often unsecured and unencrypted – and frequently outside of the security team’s awareness. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recalled 86% of medical IoT devices more than ten times, due to critical zero-day vulnerabilities. Such flaws are an ideal launching point for stealthy infiltration.

As attackers continue to innovate, organizations could leverage AI to autonomously detect and respond to advanced and never-before-seen cyber-threats.

Examples of Cyber-Attacks in Healthcare

Cyberattacks in healthcare can take various forms, each capable of causing significant disruptions and damage. Here are more detailed examples of common types of cyberattacks experienced by healthcare organizations:

  • Ransomware Attacks: As seen with the WannaCry attack in 2017, ransomware can cripple entire healthcare systems by encrypting vital data and demanding a ransom for its release. These attacks can block access to patient records, disrupt medical procedures, and even lead to the cancellation of critical surgeries.
  • Data Breaches: Unauthorized access to sensitive data is a frequent issue. For example, in 2015, the Anthem insurance breach exposed the personal information of nearly 80 million people, including names, birthdates, social security numbers, and medical IDs.
  • Phishing Attacks: These involve sending fraudulent emails that appear to be from reputable sources to trick employees into divulging sensitive information, such as passwords or financial information. Healthcare employees, often not trained in cybersecurity, can inadvertently give access to protected health systems.
  • Insider Threats: Sometimes, the threat comes from within. Employees or contractors with access to the network might misuse their privileges, either maliciously to steal information for personal gain or inadvertently through negligence, such as downloading malware.
  • DDoS Attacks: Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks flood the network with excessive traffic to overwhelm systems and disrupt operations. Healthcare providers, whose operations are critical 24/7, are particularly vulnerable to such disruptions.
  • IoMT Device Hacking: Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) devices, such as pacemakers or insulin pumps, can be hacked to alter their functionality, potentially resulting in patient harm. This type of attack represents a direct threat to patient safety.
  • Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs): These are prolonged, targeted attacks where hackers infiltrate networks to steal data over a long period. Healthcare institutions, with their vast stores of valuable data, are prime targets for such attacks.
  • Zero-day Exploits: These occur when attackers exploit previously unknown vulnerabilities in software before the developers have released a fix or even become aware of the vulnerability. These are dangerous because there is no known defense at the time of the attack.

Best Practices for Healthcare Cybersecurity

Implementing robust cybersecurity measures in healthcare is essential to protect sensitive data, ensure compliance, and maintain trust. Here are some best practices that incorporate key aspects of cybersecurity, including compliance, service provision, software solutions, and sector-specific security:

  • Healthcare Cybersecurity Compliance: Ensure all cybersecurity practices align with industry regulations such as HIPAA for data loss prevention. Regular compliance audits should be conducted to guarantee continuous adherence to these standards.
  • Healthcare Cybersecurity Services: Partner with specialized cybersecurity firms that offer healthcare-specific services. These firms can provide tailored security solutions that address unique needs of healthcare providers.
  • Healthcare Data Security Software: Implement advanced healthcare data security software to protect patient information. This software should include features for encryption, access control, and threat detection to secure sensitive data effectively.
  • Healthcare Network Security: Strengthen healthcare network security by deploying firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and secure VPNs for data transmission. Regular network assessments are crucial to identify and mitigate potential vulnerabilities.
  • HIPAA Data Loss Prevention: Adopt comprehensive data loss prevention (DLP) strategies to monitor, detect, and block the transfer of sensitive information outside the network. This is essential for maintaining HIPAA compliance and protecting patient privacy.
  • Biotech Cybersecurity Solutions: Biotechnology firms should employ cybersecurity solutions that protect intellectual property and patient data. This includes securing research data and proprietary information from cyber threats.
  • Pharmaceutical Cybersecurity: Pharmaceutical companies need robust cybersecurity frameworks to protect their research and development data, ensuring the integrity and confidentiality of clinical trial information and proprietary formulas.
  • Cybersecurity in Healthcare: Emphasize the importance of a holistic cyber security strategy that encompasses all facets of healthcare operations, from patient records management to IoMT devices.
  • Employee Training and Awareness: Regular training sessions should be conducted to educate healthcare staff on the latest cybersecurity threats and best practices. This helps build a security-aware culture and reduces the risk of human error.
  • Secure Email Practices: Implement stringent email security protocols to prevent phishing and other malicious attacks that could lead to unauthorized access to sensitive data.
  • Regular Risk Assessments: Perform dynamic risk assessments to stay ahead of potential threats, focusing on areas where data is most vulnerable.
  • Incident Response Planning: Have a well-defined incident response plan that includes clear protocols for mitigating breaches and minimizing their impact on operations and patient care.
  • Secure Mobile and Remote Access: Ensure that remote access to healthcare systems is secured through robust authentication methods and encrypted connections.
  • Data Backup and Recovery: Regularly backup all critical data and test recovery processes to ensure quick restoration of services in the event of data loss or a cyberattack.

Darktrace Cybersecurity Solutions for Healthcare

Relied on by some of the world’s most innovative and forward-thinking healthcare organizations, Darktrace’s ActiveAI Security Platform protects the entire digital ecosystem. Using Self–Learning technology, Darktrace’s AI can prevent, detect, respond, recover to machine–speed attacks and insider threats in real time without relying on prior attack data. It works by learning the ‘pattern of life’ of every user and device in an organization and the connections between them. As well as helping to pre-empt attackers and harden defenses, this understanding of ‘self’ enables the AI to spot the subtlest signals of emerging threats and react immediately to neutralize the malicious activity.

Operative across cloud, SaaS, medical IoT, email, endpoint devices, and the traditional network, Darktrace is able to defend organizations’ sensitive patient data and digital systems wherever they are located. In today’s new era of threat, Darktrace’s ability to autonomously stop machine-speed cyber-threats is invaluable, particularly in the event of DDoS attacks and ransomware. By taking swift and targeted action, Autonomous
Response interrupts emerging threats without disrupting normal activity. Only highly unusual and suspicious devices and employee behavior is inhibited – meaning that life-saving patient treatment can continue as usual, while the full range of cybercriminal activity is swiftly neutralized.

Darktrace Healthcare Case Study: American Kidney Fund

Healthcare Threat Find: Maze Ransomware

Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI autonomously detected a case of Maze ransomware targeting a healthcare organization, alerting the security team before the damage was done. The attacker began engaging in network scanning activity and enumeration to escalate access within the Research and Development subnet. Darktrace’s AI detected a successful compromise of admin level credentials, unusual RDP activities and multiple Kerberos authentication attempts. The attacker was then observed making uploads to a domain controller, before batch files were written to multiple file shares, which were used for encryption.

An infected device then proceeded to connect to mazedecrypt[.] top, before a TOR browser bundle was downloaded and a large volume of sensitive data from the R&D subnet was uploaded to a rare domain.

Darktrace’s AI detected each stage of this attack, raising multiple high-fidelity alerts to the security team which enabled them to stop the threat before encryption began. If the organization had enabled RESPOND, Darktrace’s Autonomous Response capability, it would have taken targeted action to contain the attack in the early stages

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