What would happen if all the files in your healthcare system were suddenly inaccessible?

This might sound like an unlikely scenario, but it’s really not; a ransomware attack can hold your sensitive files hostage indefinitely. And healthcare organizations are extremely vulnerable to these types of malware attacks. Last year, estimated losses from ransomware in healthcare totaled a staggering $25 billion, and every year, these attacks affect more than 4 million patient records.

You need to invest in good ransomware protection in order to comply with HIPAA regulations and safeguard patient data. Here’s everything you need to know about ransomware in healthcare.

Warning sign showing files were encrypted by ransomware

What is Ransomware in Healthcare?

Ransomware is one of the biggest cybersecurity threats in healthcare. In the simplest terms, it is a type of malicious software that’s designed to block access to patient records and other files on your computer until you pay a “ransom”—usually a large amount of money. 

“Ransomware holds your personal files hostage, keeping you from your documents, photos, and financial information,” says anti-virus protection software company Norton. “Those files are still on your computer, but the malware has encrypted your device, making the data stored on your computer or mobile device inaccessible.”

The problem is that many people affected by ransomware actually end up paying money to cybercriminals. However, in many cases, cybercriminals don’t restore access to files and, instead, ask for further ransoms.

Ransomware has been around in one form or another since the early days of the internet, but it has become more popular in recent years. It has become increasingly common since 2012, when it began to seriously impact organizations, including many healthcare groups.

Why is Cybersecurity Important in Healthcare?

In May 2017, the WannaCry ransomware attack infiltrated approximately 200,000 computers in 150 countries. They targeted computers using the Microsoft Windows operating system and demanded ransom payments in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. England’s National Health Service (NHS) was one of the victims of WannaCry—and the attack cost the organization £92 million (about 119 million US dollars) and rendered many patient files inaccessible.

Healthcare is the industry most frequently attacked by ransomware. These organizations are specifically targeted because cybercriminals know there is extreme pressure to quickly get systems working again for patients’ safety. When ransomware restricts access to important files, it not only brings operations to a halt, but jeopardizes the privacy of patients. This is why it’s important for healthcare organizations to understand their vulnerabilities and ensure that they have adequate security to defend against cyber attacks. 

A ransomware attack can also be extremely financially damaging to your healthcare organization. Because the handling of patient information is regulated by the government, if you fail to protect your systems, you could face hefty HIPAA fines for non-compliance, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars

How to Protect Yourself From Ransomware

There are a number of ways you can prevent ransomware from damaging your healthcare organization:

1. Train Healthcare Employees

Invest in training for your employees so they can use your software and computer systems safely. Phishing—a cyber attack where cybercriminals attempt to obtain sensitive information by sending an email disguised as someone familiar to you—can often result in a ransomware attack, so employees need to receive cybersecurity training on how to recognize phishing attempts.

2. Use the Latest Protection

Anti-virus software and firewalls can help you reduce the likelihood of a ransomware attack. But that’s not all the security you need. You will need to make sure all of your systems and software are up to date with the latest security patches. Vulnerable software is one of the top causes of ransomware. 

3. Work With a Managed Service Provider

A Managed Service Provider (MSP) lets you outsource all of your cybersecurity procedures so you can improve the safety of your computer systems. The best Managed Service Providers monitor servers, exchange servers, routers, firewalls, and other technology to reduce the chances of a ransomware attack impacting your organization. Outsourcing your computer security like this provides you with peace of mind. 

Forty-six percent of healthcare organizations have already been affected by ransomware—that’s almost half of the businesses in the industry. The truth is, many healthcare organizations don’t have a sufficient cybersecurity strategy in place. In 2020, you can prevent falling prey to a ransomware attack by training your employees, using the latest protection, and working with an MSP.