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As we are all painfully aware, 2020 was a challenging year in countless ways. Not the least of these is that attackers took full advantage of vulnerabilities in cyber defenses, including those of healthcare organizations. Healthcare data breaches rose by 25% in 2020 and are projected to triple in 2021.

Healthcare Data Breaches Medical Record

We spoke to a few experts about what they’ve seen in healthcare, what they expect will happen next, and how best to protect yourselves moving forward. Take a look at what they had to say.

Why have ransomware attacks increased recently in the healthcare space?

There has absolutely been a rise in ransomware attacks in institutions like hospitals and healthcare organizations. It’s because these places are personal data goldmines, and personal data is extremely valuable right now. Why do you think everyone is so desperate to get you to hand it over? They make billions off of it, and cyber attackers know that.

Heinrich Long

Privacy Expert at Restore Privacy

If a healthcare organization faces a data breach, it is estimated to cost them an average of $429 per record lost [Source]. With such a high return on investment, threat actors specifically target these organizations despite the critical healthcare they provide.

Nathan Little

Senior Vice President of Digital Forensics & Incident Response at Tetra Defense

The simple answer? Bad actors want money. They have one goal, and they’ll go to extreme lengths to get paid. High regulatory standards and the impact of PHI breaches make payouts from healthcare organizations much higher. Human error – clicking a malicious link – is often the way into an organization. Also, proprietary biotech devices with outdated and poor security pose a severe risk.

Adam Torgerson

Director of Cloud Services and Chair of InfoSec Committee at Compudyne

Healthcare has always been a target of attacks. The increase could be due to the fact that healthcare is seen as a more lucrative target than in the past. If successful, the cache of information is larger. We could be seeing an increase because organizations are actually catching it sooner–there’s more awareness.

Chad Spoden

Sr. Security Analyst & Solution Architect at FRSecure


How has COVID-19 impacted healthcare data breaches?

There has been a massive increase in attacks on healthcare facilities in 2020, and the momentum will carry on into 2021. Hospitals are also being hit by a wave of Ryuk ransomware attacks, like the one that affected 400 locations of Universal Health Services in October. These attacks encrypt databases and can cripple hospital operations – they have led to emergency patients being diverted to other facilities.”

Ara Aslanian

CEO at Inverselogic

COVID-19 has absolutely contributed, because in times of crisis, this type of attack is on the rise. And because with so many people in the hospital, the data is ripe for the picking. I’m sure the high numbers we’re seeing this year are at least in part due to the shift to remote work. People just aren’t careful enough about protection, security, passwords, and software.”

Heinrich Long

Privacy Expert at Restore Privacy

COVID-19 caused a major shift on operating procedures across the entire healthcare sector, and it added demands to already demanding workloads. The uptick in external communications and telemedicine opened the door for bad actors to impersonate patients with phishing attacks and lure healthcare workers into clicking on malicious links.”

Adam Torgerson

Director of Cloud Services and Chair of InfoSec Committee at Compudyne

The past year has challenged us in so many ways. Our focus has been shifted from our traditional daily routines. We are working from home, helping our children who are distance learning, concerned for our loved one’s health and wellness, social and political unrest. Our workforce is now very dispersed and working from home offices that don’t have the same level of security and oversight that the corporate networks have.”

Chad Spoden

Sr. Security Analyst & Solution Architect at FRSecure

Hospitals have faced these attacks before and will continue to face [ransomware attacks] despite COVID-19, making it even more important to ensure critical safeguards, planning, and training are in place.”

Nathan Little

Senior Vice President of Digital Forensics & Incident Response at Tetra Defense


How can organizations prevent or mitigate future healthcare data breaches?

Beef up information security programs. This is critical. Phishing attacks prey on the unaware, so continuous education with ALL staff and healthcare providers goes a long way in keeping environments safe. Conduct monthly phish awareness programs, and follow up with further education for those folks who did not ‘pass’ the phishing campaign. When teams know what bad acting looks like, they’re less likely to be exploited.”

Adam Torgerson

Director of Cloud Services and Chair of InfoSec Committee at Compudyne

Conduct a ransomware readiness assessment that includes testing your IR plans.  When conducted correctly, it can highlight some key areas that can be addressed before a real event happens.  Go back to your most recent comprehensive risk assessment.  Where are your most significant risks, what are your plans to reduce those risks?”

Chad Spoden

Sr. Security Analyst & Solution Architect

Ensure systems are kept current with updates, antivirus software is installed and staff is continuously trained in cybersecurity awareness and proper cyber hygiene. No defenses are invulnerable – hospitals need to have a plan for dealing with a successful ransomware attack. Hospitals should implement redundant systems that are gapped from the main network and can be switched to as needed until the main systems are recovered and back online.”

Ara Aslanian

CEO at Inverselogic

Every organization should have a dedicated and comprehensive cybersecurity department. It is unconscionable that there are still healthcare institutions that do not have teams that have this on lock already. This is your most important priority. A cybersecurity expert is able to not only secure and protect the data and systems but also provide very necessary cybersecurity training to all the employees on every level. Especially since so many work from home now, this is not an option, it’s a requirement.”

Heinrich Long

Privacy Expert at Restore Privacy

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all response strategy when it comes to ransomware. However, we recommend that every healthcare organization implement these safeguards.”

Nathan Little

Senior Vice President of Digital Forensics & Incident Response at Tetra Defense


What do you think?

Weigh in with your experience in the comments.

For more information about the contributors’ organizations, see Restore Privacy, Tetra Defense, Inverselogic, and Compudyne.


Jess Kooiman on Linkedin
Jess Kooiman
Marketing & Events Specialist at FRSecure
Jess came to FRSecure with little understanding of the information security world. Within a few months, she became deeply passionate about furthering FRSecure's mission to fix the broken industry by helping create a safer and more secure world through information security. Jess enjoys writing resources that help the average person improve their security and get the most from the tools they use.

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