Healthcare Cyberattacks Increasing During COVID-19

The healthcare sector has long been a preferred industry for hackers to target. Now that many healthcare systems are under extra strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these cyberattacks could prove especially devastating.

Why Do Hackers Focus on the Medical Sector?

There is no single reason why cybercriminals find the healthcare sector so alluring. The value of medical data plays a substantial role in that reality, however. A patient’s medical file potentially holds a wide assortment of information hackers could sell on the Dark Web, use for identity theft or even hold against a victim for blackmail.

DevOps Connect:DevSecOps @ RSAC 2022

Cybersecurity analysts at FireEye published 2019 research about 17 threat groups and found that spear-phishing is an especially common method of attack in the medical sector. They also warned that since healthcare workers transfer data to so many third-party organizations, access opportunities rise.

Criminals operating online also understand the tremendous urgency healthcare workers deal with daily. If a ransomware attack prevents patient record access or means entire departments at a hospital cannot function normally, many of the affected parties may cave and meet a hacker’s demands. Doing so doesn’t guarantee success, however.

Another aspect worth considering is that the medical field has a long history of failing to pay enough attention to internet security. Even as many organizations try to make up for the lost time by increasing their investments, many hospitals still have significantly outdated systems. Additionally, managers may not provide adequate time for staff members to get relevant training.

Due to HIPAA restrictions, many health facilities still use outdated methods and equipment, such as traditional fax machines. A better alternative—which offers enhanced data protection among its benefits—is to use an online fax service. Many options provide password protection and data encryption, both of which support improved healthcare cybersecurity.

Online Criminals Capitalize on COVID-19’s Uniqueness

The primary aims in medicine are to save lives, treat illnesses and manage conditions. Many people have trouble connecting the dots and seeing how cybersecurity relates to those things. Hackers then have prime opportunities to wreak havoc—at any time, but especially as healthcare workers are stressed and the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Cybercriminals often try to get people to take action without thinking. They might tell them to fill out a form with their details to avoid missing out on lottery winnings or prevent getting fined by tax authorities. During the coronavirus pandemic, there’s no need for perpetrators to fabricate disastrous circumstances. The very real, life-threatening coronavirus does that for them.

Some of the recently identified malicious emails claim to contain information from national or global health authorities. Since this is a novel coronavirus, health practitioners are particularly eager to get reputable advice about treating or diagnosing it. Other types of healthcare COVID-19-related cyberattacks entice people with offers of personal protective equipment (PPE) or get healthcare workers to give private information to confirm a ventilator delivery.

Another scam uncovered by security analysts involved bundling malware into a tool made by a reputable organization. Cybercriminals lure people in by using a real version of a COVID live tracking app developed by Johns Hopkins University. The researchers believe hackers may publish the tampered-with version of the map on malicious websites to steal visitors’ passwords.

Healthcare cyberattacks such as these prey on people’s desire for information. Average individuals worry about keeping themselves and their loved ones safe. Medical workers share those concerns while facing challenges they desperately want to solve, such as rising death rates, infection rate spikes, testing delays and equipment shortages. Learning about new threats to humanity is generally a positive action, but the push for education has also opened the door to internet-based attackers.

COVID-19 Forced Many Physicians to Work From Home

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many health practitioners to postpone non-urgent appointments, such as annual physicals. Many of them continued providing care from home via telemedicine platforms. The American Medical Association highlighted how the new work situation might introduce cyber risks that were not present in a doctor’s usual facility.

For example, they may use home computers that don’t have the latest software updates installed. Or, providers who are using telemedicine services for the first time may fall for generic phishing emails that entice them to give private details.

Receiving a generic message that says, “Your account has been locked. Please click here to restore access,” may cause an exceptionally speedy response if the recipient believes a disabled account will prevent them from seeing their next patient. Using any new tool or technology makes some people less aware of warning signs. The efforts to keep caring for people outside of the usual medical practices may mean some physicians act hastily and give hackers what they want.

Careful Thought Avoids Catastrophes

Practicing healthcare cybersecurity on a personal level requires thinking carefully before acting. For example, a person who receives an email demanding more details to release a held-up shipment of medical supplies could place a quick call to the proper department or supervisor to verify the message’s legitimacy.

Medical workers already understand how crucial it is to exercise careful thinking when caring for patients. It’s now especially necessary for them to do that when depending on the internet. The responsibility rests with health facilities to enhance online security measures too, but everyone has an essential role to play.

Featured eBook
Managing the AppSec Toolstack

Managing the AppSec Toolstack

The best cybersecurity defense is always applied in layers—if one line of defense fails, the next should be able to thwart an attack, and so on. Now that DevOps teams are taking  more responsibility for application security by embracing DevSecOps processes, that same philosophy applies to security controls. The challenge many organizations are facing now ... Read More
Security Boulevard

Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews writes about cybersecurity, data privacy and technology for Digital Trends, Cloud Tweaks, TechnoBuffalo and The Daily Dot. To read more of Kayla’s articles, visit her blog Productivity Bytes.

kayla-matthews has 25 posts and counting.See all posts by kayla-matthews