Ransomware assaults against healthcare providers expanded an astounding 350 percent during the last quarter of 2019 with the quick pace of assaults previously proceeding all through 2020.
Ransomware attacks dominated healthcare headlines during the later part of 2019 with attacks on IT vendors disrupting services on hundreds of dental and nursing facilities, while a number of hospitals, health systems, and other covered entities reported business disruptions from these targeted attacks.
Also, in December, Blackberry Cylance specialists revealed that another ransomware variation known as Zeppelin was spotted focusing on the human services division and tech associations through the supply chain.
IT research group Corvus broke down the ransomware attacks of the last few years to get a feeling of malware’s effect on the part and its assault surface and discovered there were in excess of 24 announced ransomware occurrences a year ago.
These findings mirror similar reports, which also noted that these numbers are likely lower than the actual number of attacks – as some ransomware victims do not report the incidents to the public.
In fact, Emsisoft research shows that more than 759 healthcare providers were hit with ransomware last year, reaching crisis levels.
Further, the trend has continued in 2020 with at least four healthcare covered entities reporting attacks in January alone. According to Corvus, the number is more than any other quarter in healthcare since Q3 2017. And if the rate continues, there will be at least 12 reported during Q1 2020.
The researchers also found that healthcare actually has a smaller attack surface, on average, than the web average. Those that have reduced their overall exposure, especially hospitals, have limited the risk of exposure.
But health services and medical groups are the most at risk in the sector, according to the data.
That’s not to say that healthcare is successfully securing its attack surface. For example, one of the most common exposure types is through the remote desktop protocol, which is associated with a 37 percent greater likelihood of a successful ransomware attack.
Healthcare is also struggling to secure its email security, overall. Eighty-six percent of healthcare covered entities don’t use scanning and filtering tools on their email platforms. Even hospitals, which typically leverage these services at a higher rate, are failing to deploy this tool at a successful rate (just 25 percent use the tech).
What’s more, health practitioners, such as dentists and physicians are 14 percent less likely on average to use the most basic form of email authentication, which are known to prevent suspicious emails from making it to the inbox.
It’s concerning, as Corvus showed that more than 91 percent of ransomware attacks are the result of phishing exploits.
“Hospitals use email scanning and filtering tools more than average, but the average is low,” researchers wrote. “These services are associated with a 33 percent reduction in the likelihood of a ransomware attack. All healthcare entities should strongly consider such services to help prevent phishing.”
Corvus also found that hospitals are six times more likely to internally host their own servers, instead of leaning on a third-party vendor. As a result, those entities have “the responsibility for maintaining some aspects of security in their court: keeping up with the everchanging threats rather than handing it off.”
“As commodity ransomware has become more readily available and examples of successful attacks on smaller organizations, like local governments, gain attention, attackers may well turn their attention to organizations like individual health practitioners or nursing/long-term care facilities,” researchers wrote.
“We can see that the security measures at these kinds of organizations are average at best, and in some areas worse,” they continued. “Healthcare organizations of all sizes are at risk… They should be taking advantage of opportunities to improve email security.”
As the number of successful ransomware attacks increased, several industry stakeholders released guidelines to help organizations shore up their defenses, including the Department of Homeland Security, Microsoft, NIST, and the Office for Civil Rights. Healthcare organizations, especially those with limited resources, should turned to these insights to bolster their defenses.
Lastly, the FBI has continually reminded organizations that they should not pay the ransom for a host reasons, including that there is no guarantee the hackers will unlock the data and the threat actor may launch a subsequent attack.
Ransomware attacks have cost the healthcare sector at least $160 million since 2016, according to Comparitech.
This article was adapted from research published by Health IT Security.