October 19, 2022

How Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM) can secure the Healthcare Sector

Organizations are becoming increasingly susceptible to cyberattacks threatening the safety and privacy of stakeholders and clients alike.

This is even more serious when the healthcare industry falls into the crosshair of threat actors. A well-orchestrated attack against a hospital or healthcare organization can potentially cause millions in loss and, more importantly, jeopardize patients’ well-being and safety.

Healthcare systems are often inter-connected, and a healthcare organization such as a hospital operates on a giant mesh of interconnected devices. From thermometers to MRI machines, everything is interconnected for optimal functioning and steadfast treatment of patients.

This makes them a lucrative target for bad actors. This article analyses the challenges faced by the healthcare sector and proposes solutions to tackle the looming threats.

Why do Cybercriminals Target the Healthcare Industry?

Cybercriminals target the healthcare industry with a priority of stealing and breaching as much data as possible. The healthcare sector, being a warehouse of large amounts of sensitive data, coupled with a few other factors, make it an attractive target for bad actors.

The highly interconnected environment of healthcare organizations makes it exceedingly challenging for the IT teams to find and patch loose ends. This paves the way for bad actors to aggressively enumerate the network perimeter of an organization in search of security weaknesses.

Historical evidence points to a significant rise in such attacks under tense situations like the pandemic. Since 2020, attacks that target IP addresses have increased by a staggering 117%.

Moreover, cybersecurity attacks have been reported to be the number one hazard to the healthcare industry.

Moreover, a large number of healthcare organizations still, to this date, run on legacy systems. Upgrading systems is a major challenge as, naturally, a healthcare organization cannot suffer downtime.

Furthermore, updating systems would necessitate the staff receiving appropriate training and time to adapt to the new technology. Workflow disruption from such a huge transition is not realistically sustainable in a high-paced environment such as that of a hospital.

This low effort, high-reward nature, paired with the vast attack surface and organizations still running on legacy systems, motivates cybercriminals to target the healthcare industry actively.

Challenges Faced by the Healthcare Sector

Being a prime target of cybercriminals, the healthcare sector is burdened with many responsibilities to shoulder and many assets to protect. Some of the major challenges faced by healthcare organizations in their operations are:

Protecting the Patient’s Privacy

In 2020, the healthcare sector witnessed a surge in cybercriminal activity. Hackers preyed on the stressful situation caused due to the onset of COVID-19. In one instance, a link in an email was shared under the disguise of a “coronavirus map” to track COVID-19 cases. When clicked, it activated an info stealer malware which then caused the theft of passwords and credit card information.

Vulnerabilities in Legacy Systems

Since many hospitals and similar establishments still rely on legacy systems, the chances of them being compromised or falling prey to unpatchable vulnerabilities are very high. The systems cannot be upgraded as well due to the high-paced environment of healthcare businesses and other costs such as training the staff, which cannot be sustained by the tight budget of most healthcare organizations.

Challenges faced by the IT Team

While digitization and interconnectivity of equipment have evidently helped healthcare organizations function better, the increased dependency on technology also led to the expansion of the overall attack surface. The expanding network introduced hard-to-detect blindspots in the infrastructure, making it highly challenging for the IT team to detect and patch vulnerabilities.

Data Breaches

Data breaches and ransomware attacks are the worst nightmares for healthcare organizations. Since hospitals and similar establishments house vast amounts of sensitive and life-critical data, protecting and securing all this data is a challenge that has troubled all industries, and the healthcare sector is no exception to this rule. But, in case of a breach in healthcare organizations, the repercussions are much more deadly than those of the telecom sector and other industries.

Attacks Plaguing the Healthcare Sector

The primary motive of a threat actor is to traffic as much data as possible from an organization which is why hospitals and other establishments are plagued with info stealers.

Additionally, as a healthcare org houses vast amounts of data, cybercriminals leverage this to infect organizations with ransomware to extort exceedingly large amounts of money in-exchange of crucial, potentially life–critical data.

Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware seriously threatens the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data.

The files and other information are often encrypted, access is restricted, and a ransom is demanded when a machine or equipment falls prey to ransomware.

In essence, the cybercriminal takes critical data as hostage and demands a ransom in exchange for restoring the data. 

However, paying the ransom does not ensure that the data will be restored. Despite assurances by threat actors, even if the ransom is paid, the data may never be recovered.

In April, the Costa Rican financial system was severely disrupted by the Russia-affiliated cybergang known as Conti Ransomware.

The hacker organization threatened to erase the recovery keys and leave the government and its people stranded if the ransom was not paid by May 23. The group urged Costa Rican citizens to exert pressure on their government to pay the demanded sum.

According to Verizon 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, Year over Year ransomware attacks increased by 13 percent, a jump greater than the past 5 years combined.

Phishing Campaigns 

Targeted phishing campaigns take advantage of human error and often serve as an initial entry point for dropping malicious payloads like info stealers and ransomware. 

Since a victim is individually targeted, they are more likely to fall for the phishing scheme and give away critical information by clicking on a malicious link or opening a harmful document. 

A recent example of how compromising a single employee can lead to drastic breaches is the LastPass data breach, where bad actors compromised a single developer account and leveraged it to cause a massive data breach.

Phishing attacks are a major dilemma for companies to deal with. A staggering 75% of companies in the US reported falling victim to phishing attacks, and on a global scale, phishing cost an estimated 1.8 billion in business losses.

IoT Attacks

With more linked devices, the application of IoT has boomed, opening up new endpoints. This is especially true for the highly meshed environment that healthcare organizations operate on. Some of these vulnerabilities are not properly patched, leaving sensitive accounts vulnerable to takeovers. Attackers can exploit these endpoints to inject malicious code and potentially take over the connected devices.

How Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM) can secure the Healthcare Sector

Continuous Threat Exposure Management uses Risk Identification and Assessment to identify and patch vulnerabilities and secure potentially exploitable vectors. Enterprises can continually and consistently evaluate the visibility, accessibility, and vulnerability of an enterprise’s digital assets using five stages: scoping, discovery, prioritization, validation, and mobilization. CTEM systems are scalable and can keep up with the pace of asset expansion by persistently monitoring the infrastructure for any unwanted change and mitigating newly-generated flaws that threaten the integrity of the infrastructure.

As the number of susceptible endpoints is reduced, your company’s attack surface is significantly minimized. Adopting a Continuous Threat Exposure Management solution is a must to fortify healthcare organizations’ intricate infrastructure and mount an active defensive measure against cyber criminals.

About HivePro Uni5

HivePro Uni5 focuses on Continuous Threat and Exposure Management by using vulnerability as a pivot to assist customers to reduce the attack surface and move away from trying to “fix everything” to fix “what matters”.

HivePro Uni5 provides a true risk score for every vulnerability based on 20+ parameters such as Threat Actor Landscape, Industry Vertical, Geolocation, wormability, exploitability to name a few. This enables enterprises to take decisions on what to Patch Now and what can be Scheduled to Patch Later. To know more about HivePro Uni5, feel free to reach out to us.

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