Ransomware Attacks and their impact on the Healthcare System

Cyber Security, Newsletter

In the autumn of 2021, the staff at Johnson Memorial Health in Franklin, Indiana, were looking forward to a respite from the recent surge of COVID-19 hospitalisations brought on by the delta variant. However, their hopes were dashed on October 1st, at 3 a.m. a ransomware group known as the “Hive” infiltrated the health system’s networks. The cyber attack disrupted the hospital’s operations and threatened patient care.
 
Cyber Attacks on healthcare facilities have become a significant issue, with one study reporting they have more than doubled from 2016 to 2022 on the U.S. healthcare sector alone. They pose a significant risk, not only of data breaches leading to the exposure of confidential patient information, but also of severe operational disruptions. In the wake of such breaches, hospitals can lose millions of dollars and face months of recovery time (if they can recover at all). The attack on Johnson Memorial was symbolic of these targeted attacks on the healthcare sector. Following the breach, the hospital staff found themselves resorting to low-tech methods of patient care, using pen and paper for medical records and relying on human messengers to relay orders and test results between departments.
 
As a result of the attack, Johnson Memorial had to take several critical systems offline, leading to significant operational challenges. The emergency department had to divert ambulances to other hospitals due to an inability to access patient records. Security measures were also compromised, with staff in the obstetrics unit having to guard the doors physically when the usual access control system failed. Additionally, communication difficulties arose when the hospital’s remote translation service became inaccessible due to the attack, forcing nurses to use Google Translate via mobile devices to communicate with non-English speaking patients.
 
In the wake of the attack, Johnson Memorial faced a very long recovery period. It took almost six months for the hospital to return to near-normal operations, with the staff working tirelessly to restore services. The financial impact of the attack was also substantial. Even almost two years after the attack, Johnson Memorial is still waiting for its cyber insurance claim to be paid, and its annual insurance premium has increased by 60% since the incident. The financial strain has been further exacerbated by the increased investment in cyber security measures to prevent further attacks, leading to concerns about the affordability of continued operations, particularly for smaller hospitals. Recently St. Margaret’s Health in Spring Valley, Illinois announced it was closing its doors due to failure to recover from an attack in 2021.
 
Efforts are underway to mitigate the risk of future cyber attacks on healthcare facilities. The U.S. Federal Government has undertaken several initiatives, including training and awareness campaigns by the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and action by the FBI to dismantle several ransomware groups. However, hospitals are still encouraged to protect themselves with cyber insurance and implement comprehensive cyber security solutions, including; Endpoint Detection & Response, Active Email Threat Protection, stringent Password Policies, Multi-Factor Authentication (2FA/MFA), Proactive Network Monitoring and much more.
 
Despite the ongoing challenges, Johnson Memorial has demonstrated resilience in the face of adversity. This experience serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerability of healthcare facilities to cyber attacks and the potentially severe consequences for patient care and hospital operations​. At One2Call we work with Businesses Across the UK, including Care Home Providers, to protect them from the ever evolving Cyber Security Landscape. If you would like to find out more about Cyber Security and how we can build a comprehensive solution that can protect your business from Ransomware attacks that could have potentially devastating effects on your business, click the link below to download our FREE Cyber Security Self Assessment form and speak with one of our specialists.

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