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In the world of cyberthreats, there’s almost nothing more dreaded than ransomware. This tool of choice for the money-minded cybercriminal is gaining in popularity. At least one in three companies have now been victimized by ransomware attacks coming from sources like CryptoLocker and CryptoWall, and even more are expected to get in on this very lucrative new business of extortion.
"Healthcare is getting hammered,” says Thomas Norman, technology consultant, Ingram Micro. Ransomware is a fast-growing, highly profitable business, and it’s an epidemic in healthcare. Eighty-eight percent of all ransomware detected in the second quarter of 2016 was in the healthcare industry, according to Healthcare Informatics.
Criminals have embraced the principles of rapid innovation too. In the first half of this year, threat actors developed some 80 new families of ransomware—a 172 percent increase over all of last year, according to Trend Micro. And with ransomware as a service, it’s data kidnapping for hire.
A Crime That Pays
“Criminals are making piles of money,” says Norman. “Depending on the configuration of the IT system, ransomware is capable of taking everything down in a hospital, including medical devices and communications. It puts critical-care units into jeopardy. They will pay and pay fast.”
In the summer of 2015, ransomware seemed to have slid off of the cybersecurity radar a bit. The spate of APT (advanced persistent threat) attacks revealed to have struck U.S. government targets and compromised massive amounts of data were grabbing headlines. The hack of adult website Ashley Madison demonstrated how personal, and personally damaging, cybersecurity incidents can be for individual citizens in an era where we conduct the most private parts of our lives online. And the rash of healthcare cloud hacks showed that the vaunted cloud was hardly as impervious to digital security threats.
Many articles have been written on vulnerabilities in medical devices that speculate on the potential impact to patient safety. In a recent string of attacks on healthcare facilities (see Heritage Valley Health Systems, Peachtree Neurological Clinic and Urology Austin), ransomware has become an increasing threat to healthcare providers, but little has been said about how it could impact patient safety. Ransomware infects a PC and restricts access to the infected PC, typically by encrypting most files. When the ability to use PCs is significantly hindered—largely making them inoperable—caregivers in hospitals may be forced back to paper-based workflows. In today’s day and age, this causes a significant disruption to normal operations.
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