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Blog — Mar 09, 2018

What makes the healthcare industry so susceptible to cyberattacks?

With the number of recent data breaches and cyberattacks, the healthcare industry is no stranger to network vulnerabilities. It is these vulnerabilities that allow cybercriminals to find success in their attacks time and time again. In this blog, we will look at what these common exposures and vulnerabilities are and why they are proving so easy to exploit.

Common Exposures

Cybersecurity is inherently a difficult problem in the healthcare industry, as standard business practice requires decentralized data sharing and specialized network-integrated medical equipment – both of which contribute to a rapidly-expanding threat surface.

To add to the problem, in general, funds allocated to Information Technology (IT) in healthcare are mostly dedicated to business functions that end up increasing the threat surface. Only a small fraction of IT spending in healthcare is delegated to cybersecurity for securing threat surfaces.[1] In fact, KPMG reports that 43% of senior executives “have not increased their cybersecurity budget despite having knowledge of recent high-profile breaches” and 42% “do not plan to.”[2]

As it stands, the healthcare industry is reliant on web portals for data sharing across entities, comprised of both public and private organizations.[3] Because a single patient can utilize several different organizations for assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of injury and disease, these entities must share patient data with each other.[4] In addition, patients must be able to publicly access their own records. Together, these factors create an environment where several different layers of technology remain exposed to threat actors.

Furthermore, the reliance on medical devices results in more access points to healthcare networks.[5] The FDA does require compliance in medical devices, and standards are typically geared more towards the health and safety of patients actively using medical devices.[6] As a result, little emphasis is placed on the potential that information could be stolen directly from the medical device or the fact that these devices could be used as access points in a large-scale breach.

Of course, with the rise of network-enabled medical devices (considered the “Internet of Things”), some researchers warn the problem could get much rose.[7] Medical devices require complicated software integration, and software comes with its own vulnerabilities. Therefore, with each new device, not only does the threat surface increase, but so does the number of vulnerabilities introduced to the network.[8]

Investigating the situation

Using the publicly available Shodan service, the eSentire Threat Intelligence team conducted open-source intelligence investigations on healthcare organizations, putting themselves in the shoes of a potential attacker to assess vulnerabilities – both at the perimeter and within the network. The results revealed the exposure of a massive threat surface, including publicly accessible network admin panels, unsecure web services for patients and several devices exposed to the internet and running outdated software.

Many healthcare organizations use single-factor authentication (1FA) for their VPN services and have instances of devices running the infamously outdated Windows XP operating system. Externally-facing vulnerabilities were discovered that exist in commonly exploited software such as OpenSSL, Microsoft Windows Server 2003, PHP, Apache Struts, and Microsoft IIS.

A case in point

In one of the organizations the Threat Intelligence team tested, they identified an exposed threat surface opened to numerous services. Some of their findings included:

Needless, to say, these findings are consistent with what researchers and experts claim about healthcare cybersecurity – the threat surface of healthcare organizations is excessively large.

So what can you do about these vulnerabilities? Check out our Healthcare Threat Report for recommendations and solutions.



[1] Harries & Yellowlees, 2013

[2] KPMG, 2017

[3] Harries & Yellowlees, 2013

[4] Testimony of Denise Anderson, 2014

[5] Sametinger, Rozenblit, Lyssecky, & Ott, 2015

[6] Food and Drug Administration, 2016

[7] Healey, Pollard, & Woods, 2015

[8] Sametinger, et al, 2015

Emily Boden
Emily Boden Content Specialist

Emily is a content specialist on the Marketing team at eSentire. Drawing on her background in journalism and social media, Emily communicates eSentire's mission with compelling and thought-provoking content.