Massive Cyber-Attack Hits Health Systems Abroad

A recent worldwide ransomware attack exposed vulnerabilities on computer networks in 100 countries. The ransomware, dubbed “WannaCry”, locks users out of their computers and demands a bitcoin payment as ransom. Healthcare systems and providers who depend on the accessibility of their files in order to make life saving decisions are at particular risk. Notably, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) was hit particularly hard by the attack.
Those who use Windows and did not undergo the security update released last month by Microsoft were vulnerable to the attack. That security update is free and still available from Microsoft.
The attack could have been much worse. The victims were fortunate that someone observing the attack was able to identify a “kill switch” which prevented the attack from spreading.
Several government agencies have issued responses and made cybersecurity suggestions moving forward. The FBI recommends strong spam filters to avoid phishing emails. All anti-virus and anti-malware software should be up to date and set to automatically conduct scans. They also suggest training employees to recognize scams and malicious links. Finally, they propose that “penetration tests” should be run annually against the network.
Computers should be backed up to some type of external hard drive in order to protect files and data. A full summary of the FBI’s statement can be found here: FBI statement on WannaCry.
HHS has issued a similar statement detailing cybersecurity recommendations: HHS cybersecurity update.
According to the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology, the healthcare industry is one of the most frequent targets of malicious attacks. In a report done by SANS institute, they noted that with the rise of electronic health records, more attacks are being waged on the healthcare field.
The costs associated with a cyberattack for a healthcare provider are huge. Large HIPAA compliance fines can be imposed on companies. Additionally, there are costs to handling the incident and notifying victims, as well as lost opportunities, legal costs, new security investments, and the cost of recovering data.
Illustrative of the susceptibility of healthcare providers is the impact the attack had on the British NHS. Across England and Scotland there were reports of patient records becoming unavailable, operations cancelled, and ambulances diverted in the wake of the attack. Up to 40 NHS organizations were affected by the ransomware. Communication between doctors’ offices and other providers were slowed or completely stalled as many computer systems were taken off line.
Among a growing list of cyberattacks on healthcare in the United States, some of the most notable have been the attack on Banner Health in which the information of nearly 3.7 million people was compromised, and the attack on 21st Century Oncology that affected over 2 million people.
Ultimately, providers and insurance companies must become increasingly vigilant. This will require increased investment in cybersecurity and creating more robust plans for when an attack occurs.


Our Affiliations: