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How to prepare for cyberattacks in the healthcare industry

BY eSentire

April 3, 2018 | 3 MINS READ

Cybersecurity Strategy

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By this point, you know why the healthcare industry is a growing target for cyber-attacks, what the common vulnerabilities are, and which attack types are used to infiltrate networks within this industry. In other words, you know almost everything you need to know about cybersecurity in the healthcare industry. The only thing you’re missing is perhaps the most crucial: what can you do to limit the inherent risk of attack?

Naturally, we have some recommendations - at both the technical and strategic level.

Technical recommendations

eSentire Threat Intelligence proposes the following technical recommendations that apply to the healthcare industry and beyond, including:

  1. Perform better patch management to defend against opportunistic attackers

    A popular technique among cyber-attackers is to target software that has not yet been updated to protect it from known vulnerabilities. And yet, patch management is ‘low hanging fruit’ for IT administrators, who can automate the patching of software to a certain extent using scripting tools, or more sophisticated systems that document, download, test, and administer patches from multiple software vendors.

  2. Harden externally-facing servers and replace consumer-grade routers with professional-grade routers

  3. Raise staff awareness around phishing

    Healthcare organizations tend to have a larger ratio of phishing (fraud) traffic than other industries – likely because the email addresses of healthcare professionals are less protected from the public than in other industries.

    Furthermore, healthcare personnel are more likely to open a phishing email given the high number of unpredictable emails they receive in the process of ordering drugs and equipment and collaborating with other healthcare providers.

    External research through partnerships and internal data show a high rate of ransomware delivery, often through phishing emails. Successful exploitation through exploit kits was also rampant. Malware such as Locky, Defray, pisloader, Ramnit Worm, OilRig, WannaCry, NotPetya and RIG were all found in attacks on the healthcare industry.

  4. Monitor Point-of-Sale (PoS) devices and critical servers for indicators of compromise

    A commonly-observed attack on hospitals is the hijacking of Point of Sale (PoS) devices, such as credit card readers used in payment processing. US-based provider Banner Health reported, after a breach of 3.7 million health records, that threat actors had compromised more than one of their hospital’s cafeterias for payment information.

  5. Implement 2-factor authentication, especially on critical, externally-facing services

    Two Factor Authentication (2FA) is an extra layer of security that requires not only a password and username but also something that only that user has on them, i.e. a piece of information only they should know or have on hand - such as a physical token. Where applicable, two-factor authentication should be implemented for accessing sensitive applications or remote networks to improve the assurance of user credentials.

Addressing the above problems requires a dedicated security team, particularly in the case of healthcare, where some of the flaws in cybersecurity are related to standard business practice within the organization. For instance, healthcare networks will need to remain exposed to some degree to allow information to be shared between healthcare providers, patients and third-party organizations. Medical devices will continue to depend on the outdated operating systems they were designed for and the cost of upgrading or replacing these devices will often outweigh the immediate benefit.

Strategic recommendations

To address cybersecurity issues without disrupting healthcare services, a security team is required to work through each use case and find an optimal compromise between securing data and allowing the appropriate degree of promiscuity in network traffic. Curating the cybersecurity posture of an organization is not a trivial task, particularly when the organization is both physically and technologically open to the public.

Strategic recommendations, then, include:


Implementing both these technical and strategic recommendations is the best way to start improving your cybersecurity posture. Cybercriminals won’t wait for you to be ready for them. It’s up to you to use this information to prepare your organization and protect your clients from inevitable cyber-attacks.

For more information, check out our Healthcare Threat Report.


eSentire, Inc., the Authority in Managed Detection and Response (MDR), protects the critical data and applications of 2000+ organizations in 80+ countries, across 35 industries from known and unknown cyber threats by providing Exposure Management, Managed Detection and Response and Incident Response services designed to build an organization’s cyber resilience & prevent business disruption. Founded in 2001, eSentire protects the world’s most targeted organizations with 65% of its global base recognized as critical infrastructure, vital to economic health and stability. By combining open XDR platform technology, 24/7 threat hunting, and proven security operations leadership, eSentire's award-winning MDR services and team of experts help organizations anticipate, withstand and recover from cyberattacks. For more information, visit: www.esentire.com and follow @eSentire.

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