Chris Swagler | September 15th, 2022

COVID-19 has occupied healthcare providers for the last few years, given the devastating impact the pandemic had on patients. However, ransomware is another threat that’s causing significant harm yet getting less attention. Even though certain ransomware attacks receive enormous headlines, the threat is often overlooked and can cause irreparable harm to patients. Over the last several years, cyberattacks have grown significantly and have become a daily occurrence in the healthcare industry. Healthcare leaders recognize that cyber threats are the new normal, however, the discussion regarding cyber-risk usually focuses on the bottom line, including the costs of mitigation, noncompliance, or lawsuits. It’s surprising that the top cybersecurity concerns revolve around financial losses in a sector dedicated to improving people’s quality of life. Healthcare leaders, physicians, and other providers must view cybersecurity risks through patient health and safety.

Healthcare professionals focus their efforts on keeping patients safe. This mandate is not limited to direct-care delivery in today’s digital world. Ransomware attacks put patients’ lives in danger in often unforeseen ways. For example, a cyberattack on the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMC) left it inoperable in the fall of 2020. UVMC’s cancer center was forced to turn away numerous chemotherapy patients after ransomware disabled access to systems for nearly a month. Because the cancer clinic primarily served rural areas, the cyberattack left numerous patients in fear, anguish, tears, and limited treatment options.

One nurse said that it was horrible and completely heart-wrenching to look someone in the eye and tell patients they couldn’t have their life-extending or life-saving treatment. A recent report found that 43% of healthcare delivery organizations experienced a ransomware attack in the previous two years. Poor outcomes due to procedures or test delays (experienced by 70% of hospitals affected by ransomware), increased complications from medical procedures (36%), and an increase in mortality rates (22%) were among the consequences.

Cybersecurity attacks have been named the top health technology hazard for 2022 by a nonprofit organization that focuses on patients’ safety: ECRI. The ranking was influenced by severity, frequency, breadth, and preventability. The ECRI report emphasized that cybersecurity incidents can disrupt business operations and patient care which can lead to real threats of physical harm. The risk is expected to grow as threat actors continue to target the sector at an alarming rate. UVMC has targeted just days after United States government officials warned of impending cyberattacks by Russian threat operators on American hospitals.

Healthcare has been behind numerous industries in terms of implementing robust defenses, according to IT and cybersecurity professionals. However, ransomware threats shed new light on cybersecurity flaws because the impact on patients is immediate, and the harm is far greater than a data breach. Decision-makers and healthcare delivery professionals need to understand the human benefits of cybersecurity and the human loss when it’s absent or fails. Patients arriving at hospitals or clinics are expecting treatments, which are often urgent. If healthcare providers are unable to provide the services because cybercriminals have compromised their systems, they’re violating patients’ trust and endangering lives. Life-changing scenarios will become common given the rapid growth of cyberattacks in the sector.

Cybersecurity is a difficult problem to solve in any industry, however, it’s especially difficult in healthcare. The environment’s complexities with connected medical devices, multiple locations, and legacy systems, present numerous challenges. It doesn’t help that the average healthcare organizations’ IT budget is insufficient for implementing effective cybersecurity solutions, despite requirements for storing and handling patient records under HIPPA.

It’s no longer an option to leave IT teams with few resources to defend against cyberattacks. Even though healthcare organizations devote most of their resources to care delivery, they need to recognize that in today’s environment, care delivery depends not only on medical equipment and personnel but also strong cybersecurity defenses. The delivery of care will suffer if cybersecurity is not prioritized.

With ransomware groups continuously targeting the healthcare industry, it’s critical for healthcare leaders, physicians, providers, hospitals, and organizations to remain ahead of the threat landscape and make defending patients’ PII data from various cyberattacks a top priority. At SpearTip, our certified engineers can leverage effective and purpose-built solutions to defend against cyber threats and protect patients’ data while healthcare organizations provide care and improve patients’ outcomes. The ShadowSpear Platform, our integrable solution tool, helps strengthen and improve healthcare’s security technology and infrastructure to defend against operational disruptions while healthcare organizations are pursuing new medical innovations.

If your company is experiencing a breach, call our Security Operations Centers at 833.997.7327 to speak directly with an engineer.