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Top 5 Healthcare Cyber Threats and How to Avoid Them

Roman Kolodiy
Delivery Manager, AWS Expert at TechMagic, big fan of SRE practices. Helps teams to improve system reliability, optimise testing efforts, speed up release cycles & build confidence in product quality.
Top 5 Healthcare Cyber Threats and How to Avoid Them

Over the last three years, 93% of healthcare businesses had a data breach. Healthcare cyberattacks range from malware that threatens patient privacy to DDoS attacks that harm institutions' ability to deliver patient care.

Cyber-attacks on healthcare can have far-reaching consequences of financial loss and data leaks as personally identifiable information on their members/patients—names, addresses, social security numbers, and health insurance identity numbers. For hospitals, ransomware is a particularly heinous form of malware since the loss of medical data can endanger lives.

“Due to the financial value of patient health information, electronic health records stored in healthcare organizations are a major target for cybercriminals”– Richard Luna, CEO of Protected Harbor.

We describe the common cybersecurity challenges in the healthcare industry below to illustrate the relevance of healthcare cybersecurity programs in the present.

Data breaches

Data Breaches - Healthcare Cyber Threats

Healthcare cybersecurity focuses on preventing attacks by securing systems against unauthorized patient data access, use and disclosure. The primary goal is to ensure the availability, confidentiality and integrity of essential medical data which could endanger patients' lives.

Some of the most healthcare data breaches in 2020 were caused by fraud schemes, phishing attacks and flaws in healthcare vendor systems. According to Verizon Investigations Report, the health business has the highest number of industry data breaches.

Breach incidents are common in the healthcare industry. Various circumstances can lead to data leakage: credential-stealing malware; an insider who intentionally or unintentionally discloses patient data; lost laptops or other devices.

Data breaches Threats by percentage of reported cases


The most successful way to compromise a business is by sending malicious emails and waiting for someone within the organization to click on a malicious link or open a malicious attachment. This is why phishing remains one of the most dangerous vectors of attack.

57% of respondents said that phishing attempts targeted their organizations.

Phishing is the "most common form of a severe security incident" among healthcare survey respondents. The traditional first point of compromise is either conventional or spear-phishing attempts.

For example, in 2015, a local medical center reported receiving a phone call from a pharmacy to confirm a huge order of prescription medications wasting more than $500,000 in value. After an examination, it was discovered that the medical facility had not placed that order, which was thus fraudulent. The pharmacy had just called to clarify since the medical center's mailing address differed from what they had on file.

A hostile actor had accessed the medical center's credentials and sought to obtain a line of credit with the pharmacy to purchase medications in this event.

The pharmacy's action of calling the medical center to double-check the order saved them $500,000 in prescription medications and prevented $500,000 from being stolen from the medical center's account. The employee followed the rules, and cyber security prevented fraud in its tracks.

Would employees make the transfer if your company's finance department received an email from your CEO tomorrow requesting a wire transfer or a purchase of goods? Increased knowledge and comprehension of this fraud is the most effective way to keep employees from falling for it.


In 2020, more than one in every three healthcare businesses worldwide will be victims of ransomware assault.

  • 92 unique ransomware attacked the healthcare industry with an estimated cost of $22 million.

Ransomware is a malicious software program that threatens to delete or encrypt your data unless you pay the attackers. It can devastate the healthcare industry because healthcare organizations must protect electronic health records and encryption means that computer-based data cannot be accessed. This ransomware infection can occur during the checkout process of a healthcare provider's website.

Ransomware - The cyber attack lifestyle

Ransomware typically infects target PCs in one of three ways:

  • via phishing emails containing a malicious attachment,
  • via a user clicking on a bad link, or
  • via viewing an advertisement carrying malware (malvertising)
One of the institutions affected was hospital, which delayed patient care and ultimately cost the hospital $17,000 to regain access to data and its network.

Actors utilized an open source application called JexBoss to search the Internet for vulnerable JBoss servers and compromised networks, regardless of industry. While there is no conclusive evidence, some argue that the high ransom demands seen in healthcare-related cases imply that cyber threat actors were aware of who they had affected. They may have been aware that devices affected during an infection process are frequently critical to a hospital's purpose, and the ransomware may leave them inaccessible, delaying patient care while putting enormous pressure on them to resolve the issue as soon as possible.


DDoS - Healthcare cyber threats

A DDoS attack (Distributed Denial of Service attack) is a type of cyberattack that disrupts access to websites by overwhelming them with traffic from multiple sources. It can be a severe issue for healthcare providers who need a network connection to offer patient care or Internet access to send and receive emails, prescriptions, records and information.

There are three types of DDoS attacks

  • Volume based attacks: the goal is to saturate the bandwidth of the targeted site, and its magnitude is measured in bits per second
  • Application layer attacks: the purpose is to crash the web server, and their magnitude is measured in Requests per second.
  • Protocol attacks: it utilizes server resources or intermediate communication infrastructures such as firewalls and load balancers and is measured in packets per second.

Because of the speed and destruction that these attacks may cause, hackers have adopted the ransom model. DDoS attackers can now take a healthcare organization offline and only stop the attack if a specified ransom is paid.

In 2014, Anonymous launched a DDoS attack on Boston's Hospital after the hospital suggested that one of its patients, a 14-year-old girl, be admitted to a state ward and custody be taken away from her parents. The doctors thought the girl's illness was a psychological condition and her parents pressed for unnecessary treatments for a disorder the child did not have.

Anonymous responded by launching DDoS assaults against the hospital's network, causing others on the network to lose Internet access. The networks were down for nearly a week and some medical patients and medical workers could not access their online accounts to verify appointments and test results. The hospital spent more than $300,000 responding to and reducing the damage from this incident.

Insider threats

Organizations are frequently too busy protecting their company's and network's integrity from external threats to address the genuine and deadly risk within their organization - insiders.

46% of healthcare companies were affected by insider threats

Insiders carry out cyber-attacks against healthcare industries. They possess the requisite access credentials to perpetrate a healthcare data breach or other sorts of cyber healthcare threats. They may also be more familiar with the network configuration and vulnerabilities or have the capacity to get information, which is not accessible from outside.

The idea of an insider threat spans a wide range of personnel, from those who unintentionally click on a malicious link that compromises the network or lose a working gadget with critical data to those who actively give out access passwords for profit. For example, when hackers act as healthcare staff or patients to gain access to hospital networks and systems.

Best practices to prevent healthcare attacks

There are far too many challenges to healthcare cybersecurity to overlook the dangers. Increasing the existing cybersecurity measures results in a decrease in the frequency of successful cyberattacks and a decrease in damages in terms of cost and the amount of data leaked. Healthcare software development company that fully implement security automation save $3.58 million on average compared to companies that do not.

Best practices to prevent healthcare attacks

The following are some practices for preventing cyberattacks:

Identify the risks earlier

Ransomware attacks are frequently preceded by infection with another type of software known as a Trojan. Trickbot, Emotet, Dridex, and Beacon viruses, which can trigger Ryuk ransomware attacks, should be scanned regularly. What can you do? Secure remote access to the assets, set up required filters for email, web and DNS to allow only required file types and data requested by recipients. Prepare for an uptick in cyberattacks over the weekend or during vacations. The primary idea here is to do everything necessary to prevent malware from entering inside systems.

Reduce the impact of cyber threats

To guarantee remote access to low-level accounts, apply the principle of least privilege.

  • Isolate compromised network endpoints that have received command and control beacons or have made other lateral movements. IOCs or hunting queries via SIEM or other data flow sources might be employed to detect these endpoints.
  • Take action on the following items, prioritizing investigation and correction while keeping the system up to date.
  • Allow devices to connect to the main environment only if they need access to important functions.

Defense depth is one of the most preventative measures; it is not a one-size-fits-all answer.

Medical device security

Password management has been an ongoing issue for years, with healthcare organizations trying to balance the need to enforce strong password policies with ease of use and the ability of users to remember them. Change the passwords for medical equipment regularly; they should not be the same across numerous platforms. When not in use, devices should be locked or switched off.

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Use Multi-Factor Authentication

That is one of the most simple security controls to implement, and in many cases, it may be sufficient to thwart an attack attempt.

It is estimated that enabling MFA on endpoints and mobile devices could prevent up to 90% of cyberattacks. As a bare minimum, every healthcare organization should implement MFA.

Risk-based access controls

Risk-based authentication can often make it easier for users to access data from their normal locations by eliminating the need for any form of authentication. Step-up measures like MFA can enforce greater control in higher-risk situations and reduce user friction in low-risk scenarios only when risk factors increase.

Strengthen third-party security

A third-party vendor is responsible for nearly 60% of data breaches. If you are focused on internal cyber threats, your security teams have addressed less than half of the risks that facilitate breaches. Improving the security postures of all third-party vendors necessitates a coordinated effort that includes risk assessments, security ratings and Vendor Tiering.

Backups and updates

Ransomware attacks seek out and exploit backup copies to increase their chances of payment. Make a habit of periodically backing up your most crucial data. Determine which information is most critical to your firm and test backup data restoration regularly to guarantee it is working properly.

You should update old software to the latest version, or if this is not possible, use an intrusion prevention system (IPS) with a virtual patch. It will block attempts to exploit vulnerable operating systems.  


You should educate employees on identifying common cyber threats and previous malicious attack behaviors to avoid falling victim to phishing attacks and other social engineering attempts. Employees should also understand the sensitive nature of data, the risks of losing it and why they should not give client information during phishing attempts. A cybersecurity specialist can conduct this training.

Lessons worth paying attention in 2023

In the future, phishing, ransomware, third-party risks and medical device security vulnerabilities will most likely be persistent threats in the healthcare. However, this does not mean that organizations can do nothing to mitigate risks and learn from previous years' cybersecurity incidents. So, let's look at the most important changes that will impact our cybersecurity in the future.

Artificial Intelligence

Similar to how it is used in financial services to detect fraud, AI in healthcare may help combat cyberattacks on the healthcare industry by detecting patterns of behavior that indicate something unusual is going on. Importantly, AI enables this in systems that must deal with thousands of events per second, which is where fraudsters frequently attempt to strike.

Medical device attacks

In 2023, we will see increased cyberattacks on the healthcare industry against IoT devices. Edge computing devices, which process data as close to the point of collection as possible, are all vulnerable, as is centralized cloud infrastructure.

Cybersecurity investments

Despite the risks and high costs of a healthcare cyberattack, recent research from CyberMDX and Philips discovered that most hospitals do not rate cybersecurity as an investment priority. According to the report, annual IT budgets for midsized hospitals averaged $293,000 per year on IoT and medical device cybersecurity, while large hospitals spent $329,000 per year.

Healthcare organizations must prioritize cybersecurity investments to prevent and prepare for a cyberattack.


Insider threat remediation might cost the healthcare industry $10.81 million. DDoS, ransomware, BEC, and data breach attacks regularly put the healthcare business at risk. That is why it is critical to get ahead of the curve by proactively protecting your organization rather than waiting for a major fire.

Cybersecurity is a continuous improvement process, and healthcare organizations should take a risk-focused, prioritized approach to increase the cybersecurity maturity of their estate. In the long run, aligning cybersecurity as a facilitator for corporate success is less expensive.

The thing is: Remember to keep cautious and do all possible to secure data storage. You never know when a hacker will try to take it! Continuously assess your risks by conducting activities such as web application penetration testing to determine how well your security controls are working. While there is no way to avoid these risks completely, companies should be proactive in preparing for and responding to cyber threats.

Know your data, hack yourself, train yourself. Cyber safety is patient security!


  1. What are the top cybersecurity threats in the healthcare industry?

    Healthcare systems are a prime target for cyberattacks because they are extremely large and can have a vast amount of sensitive data.
    - "Malware blacklists" spot more than spots (as in malicious programs that infect computers) are occupied by viruses hiding in emails.
    - Ransomware is a malicious software program that threatens to delete or encrypt your data unless you pay in Bitcoin to the attackers. This ransomware infection can occur during the checkout process of a healthcare provider's website.
    - A DDoS attack disrupts access to websites by overwhelming them with traffic from multiple sources.

  2. What are the risks of cyberattacks on medical devices?

    The increasing reliance on technology in our daily lives and the growing number of medical devices connected to the Internet puts healthcare IT employees, especially those who maintain or support medical devices, at risk of cyberattack.

  3. What are the most common cyber-attacks in healthcare?

    Phishing attacks are the most common cyber-attacks in healthcare. They typically involve an email designed to appear legitimate and direct a user to enter personal information into a legitimate website.

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Ross Kurhanskyi
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