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How Healthcare Organizations Can Improve Their Cybersecurity Posture

Healthcare organizations are lucrative targets for cybercriminals. Ransomware demands are often paid quickly to avoid further disruption to the delivery of health services, further emboldening cybercriminals. Electronic health records, internet-connected medical devices, and sensitive financial information are open to exploitation without the protection of a robust cybersecurity program. The rapid shift to cloud-based infrastructure to support a hybrid workforce has opened even more vulnerabilities and has led to more frequent and more costly attacks. 

          - In 2021, over 44 million patient records were exposed in 686 data breaches.                                Cybercriminals were able to infiltrate networks for electronic PII files.

          - Data breaches targeting healthcare organizations cost more than in any other industry. 

          - Medical records are more valuable on the black market than credit cards or social                      security numbers.  

          - 33% of all 2021 ransomware incidents were aimed at the healthcare industry.

          - Healthcare remediation costs rose to an average of $9.23 million per data breach.

Prevention is always less costly than remediation. This paper will identify six best practices that healthcare organizations can take to minimize vulnerabilities, maintain network integrity, and improve their cybersecurity posture.




Why Healthcare Organizations are Being Attacked

When medical files are stolen, the associated health data can’t be “canceled” like stolen credit card numbers can, making that particular data far more valuable on the black market. Even when ransoms are paid in full, leaked healthcare data can be used to pursue fraudulent medical charges/services and obtain pharmaceuticals.

And cybercriminals don’t stop there – further victimizing patients with blackmail to keep sensitive physical and mental health diagnoses out of the public eye.

The healthcare industry remains a top target for cybercriminals due to the highly sensitive nature of the data. An attack impacts the long-term functionality of hospitals, sabotages data, destroys patient trust, and can destabilize internet-dependent medical care devices.

Health data deserves protection. Hospitals that continue to rely on legacy infrastructure, unsecured medical devices, and fail to enforce security policies should reevaluate the cost of inaction. Here are six actions organizations can take now to improve their cybersecurity posture.

Protecting Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is a critical component of overall performance and operations at healthcare organizations. Doctors, hospitals, healthcare services, billing departments, pharmacies, and medical transportation companies need access to patient records to provide consistent and responsible care. But if any of these entities experience a cyberattack, the data, and the patient, can be compromised. An attack can result in misdiagnoses, delayed care, and leave patients frustrated and afraid.

Healthcare organizations must implement robust cybersecurity and risk management strategies to protect their businesses and patients.

Identify External Vulnerabilities

Cybercriminals target healthcare organizations as they are most likely to pay demands. Downtime can be more costly than the ransom payment, so hospitals are pressured to react as lives are at risk when doctors can’t access patient records. And that is precisely what cybercriminals want to do – force your hand.

That is why it is essential to identify external vulnerabilities and access points to reduce risk before it is too late. Cybercriminals target organizations that have legacy infrastructure, lack sufficient security protocols, and those too understaffed to manage security monitoring and IT maintenance efficiently.

The move to hybrid work has been a goldmine of opportunities for cybercriminals, complete with endpoint vulnerabilities, unsecured and public Wi-Fi connections transmitting sensitive data, and network access extended without proper clearance. Easily exploitable perimeters have heightened the risk of data breaches and ransomware attacks.

Healthcare organizations have trouble maintaining adequate in-house IT resources to secure their ever-expanding IT landscapes. With myriad systems, software, patient portals, firewalls, and devices to manage, IT teams don’t have the time to protect the perimeter. 

And when the perimeter is porous, cybercriminals are emboldened to access systems with stolen credentials and manipulate high-profile accounts. Medical facilities can initiate Multi-factor Authentication login procedures and advanced sign-on controls for personal devices to promote security standards.

Ensure SSL Certificates are Valid

Healthcare organizations utilize user portals to make it more convenient for patients to access information online. SSL certificates are small data files that enable encrypted communications between web browsers and servers. These digital padlocks help to ensure that only intended users can view applicable web traffic. But without current SSL certificates in place, unauthorized users can see and access the sensitive medical and financial data moving across unsecured connections.

SSL certificates must be renewed regularly as part of a routine security maintenance program. Certificates are typically valid for 1 to 2 years, and it is essential to be aware of their expiration dates. Allowing certificates to lapse impacts the secure communication of encrypted data, allowing unauthorized users to view sensitive user information such as login and payment credentials. 

Once the certificate expires, your website visitors will see a warning about the unsecure connection and can lose trust in your ability to keep their information safe.

Phishing emails are the most common vector for ransomware to penetrate your systems. Healthcare organizations, already struggling under pressure from continued pandemic-related care, have seen a 45% increase in ransomware attacks. Properly configuring SPF and DMARC records is one way to secure vulnerable entry points and avoid outages.

SPF and DMARC records are email authentication technologies that ensure only authorized users can send and receive emails. Proper configuration of SPF and DMARC records reduces the spoof-ability of emails and, therefore, the risk of falling victim to a phishing attack. 

In addition to establishing patient trust, HIPAA compliance regulations require healthcare organizations to secure and protect patient information. An expired SSL certificate is a liability and a violation of HIPAA standards. Failure to keep valid certificates can result in fines and expand your attack surface.

With the creation and rapid adoption of telehealth applications comes problems associated with unencrypted health data transferring between services. Cybercriminals can siphon off PII and use that info to create legitimate-looking emails. Kaspersky reports that 150,000 phishing emails used medical themes between June and December 2021 to lure victims into clicking on malicious links.  

Healthcare organizations that implement SPF and DMARC records will help protect against email spoofing, phishing, and other cyber threats. Failure to do so may leave valuable patient data at risk of exposure.

Even if cybersecurity tools and processes function correctly, organizations are often compelled to submit to regular third-party penetration tests to meet HIPAA compliance standards or ransomware insurance prerequisites. A close examination of an organization’s critical infrastructure will identify security vulnerabilities so IT teams can begin remediation to protect their network.


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Perform Penetration Testing

During a penetration test, IT security experts simulate a cyberattack on an organization’s network to force access and exploit vulnerabilities – using the same tools and methods as a cybercriminal. Consider a penetration test as an essential security checklist item to shore up your defenses and eliminate vulnerabilities before a criminal finds the same holes in your network. 

Penetration testing is performed in five distinct phases including:

PLANNING: defining the goals of a test and gathering intelligence to target potential vulnerabilities
SCANNING: understanding how target applications will respond to intrusion attempts
GAINING ACCESS: web application attacks are used to identify a target system’s weakness; privileges can be granted to steal data and intercept valuable information
MAINTAINING ACCESS: vulnerabilities are tested to determine whether a criminal can work undetected inside the network to steal an organization’s sensitive information
ANALYSIS: Pen Test report identifies vulnerabilities and offers valuable information for remediation efforts

Penetration testing exercises can be a valuable tool to help provide IT security teams with the feedback needed to protect against future attacks successfully. HIPAA guidelines require regular testing of IT systems and networks to protect sensitive patient data and promote continuous and safe healthcare operations. 

Engage TBConsulting for your next Pen Test. TBC has provided Penetration Testing services to healthcare providers and biomedical startups and has certified IT security experts on staff who can help organizations deliver business operations effectively, with improved security and confidence. Guided by the core values of Passion, Partnership, and Innovation, TBConsulting is committed to securing the perimeters of healthcare organizations and supporting business outcomes.

Using TBC’s Cybersecurity Diagnostic Tools

Cybersecurity is a business problem that negatively impacts patient care and medical services. No matter the size, no organization is safe from external threats and criminal activities on its systems. The healthcare industry must be proactive in defending data, remaining HIPAA compliant, protecting their patients, and reducing cyber risk. 

TBC is prepared to help healthcare practices create an IT health and security strategy. TBC has industry-leading tools and experienced IT engineers to turn your IT into a competitive advantage. Your organization can efficiently serve your patients and protect your valuable digital assets by fortifying your IT defenses.

TBC offers a free Cybersecurity Risk Diagnostic report that can provide healthcare organizations with an initial evaluation of their risk of exposure from cyberattacks and data breaches. 

The Risk Diagnostic report exposes potential risk factors by:

  1. Checking domains to reveal and identify open ports
  2. Enumerating your organization’s external vulnerabilities
  3. Verifying that SSL certificates are valid
  4. Checking for SPAM protection
  5. Building a roadmap to limit exposure and reduce risk

Healthcare facilities ready to test their current cybersecurity fitness may visit TBC’s site to enjoy a free personalized report. IT environment. For more information, feel free to schedule a free consultation with one of our trusted experts.


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Schedule a Security Posture Assessment

Digital disruptions to healthcare facilities and business operations are not only inconvenient, but they can also be dangerous. Springhill Medical Center is at the center of a lawsuit filed by a family who claims a cyberattack at the hospital is responsible for the death of their child. 

The best cyber defense is a good offense. TBC, a Managed Service Provider (MSP), offers a Security Posture Assessment to provide healthcare providers an in-depth evaluation of their IT systems, networks, and endpoint vulnerabilities. TBC’s security experts will test the fragility of backups, external accessibility, and existing security protocols - then recommend remediation and enforcement policies for tighter security controls.   

TBC uses industry-leading tools and engages experienced security engineers and network architects to help companies improve their cybersecurity posture. TBC builds strategies to protect highly sensitive data and fortify operations. We remain committed to assisting companies to protect their mission-critical infrastructure. Contact TBC today to begin your security posture assessment to identify the risks threatening your environment.

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