Why do cybercriminals like to target healthcare organizations?

Cybersecurity in Healthcare

Cybercriminals will stop at nothing to wreak havoc. As long as an organization has something worth stealing or disrupting, cybercriminals will persistently probe for weaknesses and launch targeted attacks. One industry that constantly finds itself in the crosshairs of these hackers is the healthcare sector.

According to the HIPAA Journal, healthcare organizations reported 707 breaches in 2022 that compromised millions of patient records. And it looks like 2023 is set to surpass that figure, as healthcare already reported 395 breaches in the first half of the year. Compared to other industries, healthcare organizations are experiencing a much higher rate of cyberattacks.

Why do cybercriminals target healthcare institutions?

Healthcare institutions are particularly attractive targets for cybercriminals for a number of reasons:

Patient information is invaluable

Healthcare organizations store and manage vast amounts of highly sensitive data, such as medical records, insurance information, contact details, and payment information. While most healthcare organizations are legally obligated to protect this data, the information is still worth a great deal on the dark web, making it an attractive target for cybercriminals.

Private medical records and personal information, in particular, can fetch $1,000 or more on the dark web, depending on the data’s use cases. Once purchased, the sensitive data can be exploited for a variety of illicit purposes, including identity theft, insurance fraud, and even extortion. Some cybercriminals may even use stolen medical records to acquire prescription drugs and sell them at even higher rates. No matter what cybercriminals intend to do with stolen data, it’s clear that attacking healthcare organizations can net them a hefty profit.

Broad attack surface

Within the sprawling network infrastructure of healthcare institutions, numerous entry points exist for cybercriminals to exploit. These entry points range from electronic health records and medical devices to administrative systems and third-party vendor connections. This complexity amplifies the potential vulnerabilities, giving cybercriminals myriad opportunities to infiltrate and execute their malicious activities.

Additionally, the interconnectivity of these systems within healthcare organizations can create a domino effect. A breach in one area can provide attackers with a pathway to pivot and move laterally through the network, potentially compromising more critical systems and sensitive patient data.

Outdated technology infrastructure

Although private hospitals have advanced technologies in place, public institutions and small clinics have limited resources to keep their systems up to date. It’s therefore not unusual to see smaller healthcare institutions running legacy patient management software and Windows 7, an operating system that’s been unsupported since January 14, 2020. Outdated software is often poorly protected against modern threats, as it lacks the latest security updates and patches. Therefore, companies that use outdated software inadvertently create a security flaw that cybercriminals are eager to exploit. 

Limited cybersecurity training opportunities

The focus on patient care often means that healthcare institutions don’t have a lot of time to train their employees on security best practices. This means healthcare workers are more likely to make mistakes that leave organizations vulnerable to attack. 

For example, users unwittingly opening malicious emails can grant cybercriminals easy access to corporate data. Careless employees may also set up weak passwords or send personal information over unencrypted channels, creating an environment ripe for hacking.

Ransomware is effective in life-and-death scenarios

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of cyberattacks on healthcare organizations is the potential for life-threatening consequences. Ransomware attacks, which lock critical systems and data until a ransom is paid, can paralyze hospitals and clinics, jeopardizing patient care.

In fact, a Ponemon Survey found that 45% of healthcare companies reported medical procedure complications due to ransomware attacks. If healthcare IT systems can’t function, surgeries may need to be canceled and treatments delayed, putting patients’ lives in danger. Cybercriminals leverage this vulnerability, knowing that healthcare providers may be more likely to pay a ransom when lives hang in the balance.

How should healthcare companies protect themselves?

Healthcare companies must acknowledge that becoming a target is a reality and take appropriate measures to protect their data and IT systems. For starters, a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy is essential, complete with next-generation firewalls, constant network monitoring, and regular software updates. Encrypting data and implementing multifactor authentication can also help protect the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive information.

Additionally, fostering cybersecurity awareness throughout your business is vital. Provide ongoing training to help employees recognize phishing scams and develop a critical eye for suspicious activities.

Finally, working with cybersecurity consultants will help companies understand their threat profile and implement the appropriate defenses. These consultants not only develop unique strategies to mitigate vulnerabilities, but also ensure your organization complies with industry regulations like HIPAA.

If you’re looking for a cybersecurity consultant that can safeguard your healthcare organization, Varsity Tech is the perfect partner. Our team of experts have years of experience protecting healthcare IT systems from cyberattacks. Contact us today to learn more.