Hospitals and medical facilities are lucrative targets for hackers. It’s not enough anymore to keep software updated and make backups once a week. Instead, hospitals should ask questions like: “what is a VPN” and “what does a VPN do” to kick-start their journey to safer patient data.

Would you enjoy hearing about your most intimate medical issues on the evening news? It’s already happening. It will keep happening until hospitals, and medical service providers stop underestimating the cybersecurity threat landscape.

The statistics and news headlines are clear: hospitals and medical facilities are choice targets for hackers. Patients are starting to demand that medical services providers do everything they can to keep personal data safe.

Hospitals should be googling questions like “VPN meaning” and “what does a VPN do” to kick start their journey to safer patient data and privacy.

Why do hackers target hospitals?

The healthcare industry is highly vulnerable at five pressure points. Hackers know this. They design their attacks to push these buttons to get rapid economic rewards:

  1. A shutdown of medical appliances could kill patients and delay urgent medical
    Treatment.
  2. The loss of patient medical history could delay the treatment of medical
    Conditions.
  3. Public backlash and loss of patients’ trust.
  4. The possibility of facing federal and criminal investigations and fines or
    sanctions. Some medical providers are not equipped to install better security
    controls, but many simply underestimate the risks.
  5. Hackers can make quick cash from selling Personal Health Information (PHI),
    which is worth more than ‘ordinary’ Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
    You can change your credit card or even SSN, but you can’t change your
    medical history of illnesses, treatments, or surgeries.

According to our sources, Credit cards and related information sell for $1-$2 on the dark web, but PHI can sell for more than $350. Hackers use these detailed medical records to falsify insurance claims, buy high-value drugs, or get medical procedures. 

How do hackers threaten healthcare services?

Most of the healthcare industry’s cybersecurity woes start with the weakest link: phishing attacks aimed at everyday workers.

Phishing

The first step to ransomware attacks and data breaches is to gain access to an employee’s login credentials. And they do this by carrying out phishing attacks. Cybercriminals bombard mailboxes with unsuspecting emails that contain malicious attachments or links that can download malware or steal login credentials.

They often use the hacked account of one employee to work their way up to someone in the organization that has access to the entire IT system.

Data breaches

A careless or overburdened employee may unintentionally click on a malicious link or even lose a device. In today’s work-from-everywhere environment, hackers can steal user credentials if an employee logs into the hospital’s system via a home or public Wi-Fi link without the protection of a virtual private network (VPN).

Once hackers gain access to a system, they can download patients’ healthcare and financial information, steal proprietary research, infiltrate the company’s finance system, divert funds or medical equipment and drugs, or even shut down the entire operation.

Ransomware attacks

A ransomware infection locks down your files and system and makes it completely inaccessible. The attacker then demands a ransom to unlock the files. The healthcare industry is particularly vulnerable to this type of attack because ransomware attacks can bring medical services to a complete halt. Medical emergencies can’t wait. The urgency of this situation sometimes forces hospitals to pay the ransom despite the FBI’s advice to the contrary.

DDoS Attacks

A Distributed-Denial-of-Service attack (DDoS attack) is when hackers bombard a targeted server with fake connection requests to overwhelm and force the server offline. DDoS attacks can bring every operation in a hospital to an abrupt halt and could even put lives at risk. The criminals usually demand a ransom to stop the attack.

How can hospitals protect themselves?

Cyberattacks on hospitals can halt clinical procedures, threaten the quality of patient care, and result in very serious data breaches. Clearly, standard security advice is not good enough. Hospitals should adopt a structured plan to invest in cybersecurity to defend their electronic infrastructure.

Train staff to view electronic communications as a potential attack surface. Cyber Threat Awareness programs can help to protect staff from phishing attacks and social engineering attempts.

Enforce Password Security

In a hospital’s high-pressure environment where staff often share devices and machines, users should have access to a sophisticated password management system to keep unauthorized users out.

Install a Multi-Factor Authentication system

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is a secure, simple access control measure that could thwart most hacking attempts.

Migrate to Ultra-Secure Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is reliable, cheap, and easy to put in place, especially if outsourced. Reputable cloud storage providers meet HIPAA minimum requirements and can be tailored to meet specific storage and access control needs.

Enforce data encryption

Criminals can hijack unencrypted data flying between storage and endpoint terminals. All data should be protected from input to the endpoint. A VPN can encrypt everything that enters and leaves a hospital’s digital system so that hackers can’t decipher the contents.

What is a VPN, and what does it do?

VPN technology creates a secure, private tunnel to pass data between, for example, your computer or mobile device and the hospital system’s storage device. It encrypts everything by turning it into an unreadable, useless data salad.

That private communication tunnel protects the data from prying eyes, and the encryption makes the data useless, even if someone manages to intercept it.

What can a VPN do for hospitals?

A VPN is critical to data protection, especially under HIPAA rules. A VPN can encrypt data, block unauthorized access, protect IoT equipment and IoT endpoints, block malware, improve email filtering and ensure that patient data remains protected during transit.

Conclusion

Hospitals and other health service providers are prime cybercrime targets. At the same time, HIPAA requires that they put in place a range of measures to protect patient data. It’s a tall and challenging order.

Fortunately, digital tools offer extraordinary solutions and safety features, and data encryption is a good place to start. You can use a VPN on iPhone, Android, all Windows and Linux devices, and all IoT devices like monitors, cameras, alarm systems, and other smart tech devices across the entire organization.

Posted by Charlie