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News & Knowledge

Healthcare providers held ransom by alarming surge of cyber attacks – What you can do to protect your critical data

2nd October 2017
Marc Whitfield, Partner - Taylor Porter

It is virtually impossible these days to scan a healthcare or technology news report without seeing some mention of the latest hacking or malware attack. Historically, such attacks against healthcare providers generally involved malware designed to attack medical devices with unpatched or outdated software and then infiltrate the entire network, e.g., “medjack” attacks. Hackers increasingly turned their focus to healthcare providers to obtain access to the rich trove of personal data contained in medical records. Marc Whitfield, Privacy and Health Information Technology attorney, at MSI's Louisiana law member Taylor Porter provides further insight.

​More recently, however, ransomware has become the preferred tool-of-choice when cyber-criminals attack healthcare providers. Ransomware is a unique type of malware that is distinguished by its defining characteristic of denying access to a user’s data, usually by encrypting the data with a key known only to the hacker who deployed the malware. The healthcare data is effectively held ransom until the hacker’s demands for payment are satisfied.  Unlike data-mining attacks that are designed to remain undetected for long periods, ransomware attacks are intentionally revealed when a user logs-in to his device and receives a message stating something similar to the following:

“If you see this text, then your files are no longer accessible, because they have been encrypted.”

This was the message that doctors and nurses at a West Virginia hospital recently discovered when logging-in to their system. The high value and need for timely access to healthcare data makes healthcare providers a prime target for ransomware attacks. Beyond payment of the ransom, the effects of a ransomware attack can be devastating and wide-ranging. Like other victims, the hospital in West Virginia was forced to revert to paper medical records while the hospital began the process of replacing nearly 1,200 hard drives compromised by the attacks and essentially rebuilding its entire network from scratch.

It is more important now than ever for healthcare providers  to work closely with their information technology professionals and vendors to ensure that their security and data protection  policies are current and effective to protect their medical devices, computer systems and  healthcare data, and are capable of quickly addressing, responding to and timely resolving any threats.

Cyber Attacks on the Rise

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there have been 4,000 daily ransomware attacks since early 2016, which is a 300 percent increase over the 1,000 daily ransomware attacks reported in 2015. There were 325 large-scale PHI (Protected Health Information) data breaches, compromising more than 16 million individual patient records. Not surprisingly, these attacks have dramatically increased in 2017. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, of the 791 data breaches so far in 2017, the health/medical industry has experienced 179 breaches, accounting for 22.6 percent of all U.S. data breaches. Globally, a new and highly-sophisticated strain of ransomware, named “WannaCry,” was released in May. So far, it has crippled National Health Service hospitals, the largest hospital group in the United Kingdom, and is reported to have infected computers and medical devices in as many as 99 countries.

In response to these growing threats, a July 2017 survey by Becker’s Hospital Review reports that more healthcare companies are investing in their security efforts as 83 percent of such companies report that they have implemented stronger policies restricting data access; 76 percent invested in more technology and security; and 41 percent hired more IT people or increased data protection and computer training for their staff.

If there is one thing that IT and computer forensics experts can agree upon, it is the certainty that these cyber-attacks and ransomware infections will continue to grow and spread as new variations of malware are developed and released.

Read the full article on “Healthcare providers held ransom by alarming surge of cyber attacks – What you can do to protect your critical data”

About Taylor Porter - Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Founded in 1912 in the heart of Louisiana’s economic development in Baton Rouge, Taylor Porter is one of the oldest, largest and most respected law firms in Louisiana, with a diverse range of local, regional, national and international clients in the most complex transactions and litigation across a variety of industries.

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