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How to Prepare for Cyberattacks in the Healthcare Industry

BY eSentire

February 23, 2022 | 5 MINS READ

Managed Detection and Response

Cybersecurity Strategy

Threat Intelligence

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Healthcare delivery organizations, or HDOs, are an increasing target for cyberattacks. In the 2020 HIMSS Cybersecurity Survey 70% of hospitals surveyed noted that they had experienced at least one “significant security incident” such as data breaches, data loss, and operational disruptions within the preceding twelve months.

In October 2021, the Newfoundland and Labrador healthcare system suffered a cyberattack launched by a ransomware group known as Conti. The impact of the cyberattack forced the hospital system to cancel thousands of appointments and procedures, as patient records and critical systems were completely inaccessible. The attack is now known as “the worst in Canadian history”.

With the significant role HDOs play in the health and well-being of the community at large, this places them in a uniquely vulnerable position for ransomware attacks because of what’s at stake. Cyber security issues in healthcare are only going to increase as cyber attackers become more savvy.

In our latest threat intelligence report, Code Grey: Managing Cyber Risk in Healthcare Delivery Organizations, eSentire’s Threat Response Unit (TRU) identifies three key reasons why HDOs are prime targets for cyberattacks:

Recognizing these cybersecurity vulnerabilities allows HDOs to plan a robust risk-based approach that addresses key issues that impact the strength of their cybersecurity programs, such as:

What can HDO security leaders do to mitigate cyber risks, prevent operational disruptions, and protect your patients?

To address the cybersecurity risks that impact healthcare systems, HDOs should take proactive measures to protect their operations and patients, such as:

Performing better patch management to defend against opportunistic cyberattacks

A popular technique threat actors rely on is to target software that has not been patched against known vulnerabilities. This becomes especially serious if the threat actors are taking advantage of a zero-day vulnerability. Patch management is low hanging fruit for the IT and cybersecurity team, especially since this step can be automated (to a certain extent) using scripting tools or more sophisticated systems that document, download, test, and administer patches from multiple software vendors.

You can also engage a Managed Vulnerability Services provider to conduct regular scans of your internal and external assets and help you prioritize remediating the vulnerabilities that present the greatest risk to your HDO.

Conduct regular phishing and security awareness training to increase human resilience

A simple phishing email is all it takes for threat actors to launch a ransomware attack that disrupts healthcare operations. Unfortunately, healthcare organizations are targeted by phishing attacks significantly more, compared to other industries.

Implementing a phishing and security awareness training (PSAT) program that highlights cyber risks present in HDOs enhances cyber resilience and protects patients from treatment disruptions.

Implement multi-factor authentication, especially on critical, externally facing services

Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) is an extra layer of security that requires not only a password and username but also something that only that user has on them. An example is the use of a one-time pin (OTP) that is sent to their phone for additional verification. Where applicable, multi-factor authentication should be implemented for accessing sensitive applications or remote networks to improve the assurance of user credentials. Many of the attacks our TRU team sees begin when compromised credentials are leveraged in the initial access phase of a cyberattack where MFA is not in place.

Employ a dedicated security team, including a chief information security officer (CISO)

The role of a CISO is to work directly with your team to assess your cybersecurity program and measure your ability to defend yourself against threats. If your HDO is too small to have a CISO role, you can consider leveraging the services of a virtual CISO (vCISO). This is typically an advisory service wherein you have a dedicated resource that acts as an extension of your team to evaluate your cybersecurity strategy, builds an action plan to align your cybersecurity strategy to business objectives, executes on the action plan, and demonstrates clear results and value. Having an expert opinion will help ensure that your HDO leadership team understands what cyber risks you face and how you can mitigate them.

Include vendor risk assessments in decision-making when purchasing medical equipment

Third-party suppliers can be used as a gateway for threat actors to steal your patient data. When purchasing equipment that is connected to your HDOs network, complete a vendor risk assessment with your supplier to ensure that their security measures meet HIPAA guidelines and protect your organization effectively.

Leverage 24/7 multi-signal MDR and an IR retainer to proactively protect your HDO

Although you can implement certain mitigating controls to prevent cyberattacks, you must be proactive with your cybersecurity measures. This means utilizing multi-signal Managed Detection and Response (MDR) for 24/7 threat detection, investigation, and complete response.

In fact, effective MDR provides 24/7 threat hunting expertise with cutting-edge machine learning-driven XDR to stop threats before they can disrupt your HDO’s most critical operations.

Additionally, you should have an Incident Response (IR) retainer in place to drive incident response, remediation, recovery, and root cause analysis in case of a cyberattack results in a data breach. After all, when an incident occurs, every second counts.

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 prepare your organization and protect your patients from cyberattacks and security breaches.

Learn how you can mitigate the cyber risks and protect your HDO through Multi-Signal MDR. Want to connect with an eSentire Security Specialist? Book a meeting with us.


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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