Nearly 20 million Americans across 21 states are at risk of “dangerous healthcare” after a cyberattack at one of the nation’s biggest hospital chains last month.
According to a report in The Daily Mail, CommonSpirit Health, a system that runs 140 hospitals and more than 1,000 care sites including cancer clinics and stroke centers, suffered a major IT breach on Oct. 3 in a ransomware hack.
Law enforcement officials have not yet said how big this breach is and how many sites were affected or even if the issue has been resolved.
This is not like other breaches where consumers’ sensitive information is compromised. Here, it could be a life or death situation. For example, a 3-year-old boy in Iowa was accidentally given a large dose of opioids on Oct. 4 when the computer system that informs doctors how much medication to give patients was shut down.
Patients Placed in Danger by Cyberattack
Other patients, including those with ovarian cysts, cancerous tumors, and brain bleeds saw their surgeries delayed by up to a month even though they had been referred for urgent care. Ambulances were also diverted away from a struggling hospital, which was hit by the cyberattack to one that was not run by CommonSpirit.
A number of people who claimed to work for the company also reported online that patient care has been unsafe since the attack as they are being treated without proper access to their digital medical records. Cybersecurity experts have said that the situation could be extremely dangerous if doctors are trying to treat patients without access to their files. This means they are treating them without knowing their full medical history or even without being aware of what medications they may be allergic to, which could result in devastating problems.
CommonSpirit has confirmed that the cyberattack was ransomware, which is when a cybercrime group hacks into a hospital’s computer system and encrypts all its databases including patient records. This means no one in the health system can access that critical information. The hackers then typically ask for money in exchange for the decryption key that allows them back into the system. Without proper access to such vital records, doctors and nurses are treating patients pretty much blindfolded.
In prior cyberattacks, hospitals have taken over a week to get their files back. However, the effects can be felt indefinitely because it is nearly impossible to tell if the data has been changed or if any information was lost in the process. It could also take several months to fully recover data.
Increase in Ransomware Attacks Against Hospitals
According to a Reuters news report, ransomware attacks against healthcare companies are increasing, leaving hospitals and other facilities’ data and crucial information vulnerable to the demands of cyber criminals. Two-thirds (66%) of healthcare organizations were hit by ransomware attacks last year, an increase from 34% in 2020, according to a report from cybersecurity firm Sophos. This near-doubling of cyber incidents shows how attackers have become more capable of executing such attacks on a large scale. Healthcare organizations on the other hand are very heavily dependent on access to data such as patient records. So, they are frequent targets for ransomware attacks.
Even a short delay in access to records can result in life-threatening situations for patients. According to the Sophos report, 61% of the healthcare organizations that reported ransomware attacks had their data encrypted during the event. The report also said that the increase in ransomware attacks has affected healthcare more than any other sector. The healthcare industry had the highest increase in the volume of cyber attacks (69%) as well as the complexity of such attacks compared with other sectors.
High Stakes Require Investment in Security
Because of the high stakes involved in hospital ransomware attacks, health networks have an obligation to protect their patients by investing in security measures. Cybersecurity must be a top priority for a hospital’s leadership and board. An attack not only brings financial and legal issues but, most importantly, threatens the lives of patients.
Here are some ways in which hospitals can guard against ransomware attacks:
- Employees must be empowered to identify, report and stop such attacks. One way to do that is by not clicking on phishing emails. More than 90% of cyberattacks start with such emails.
- Teams within a hospital must work closely together so they can find areas that could be vulnerable to a cyberattack. Siloed organizations are at a greater risk for such attacks.
- Periodical password changes and mandatory multi-factor authentication are good practices for any organization. Biometrics and facial recognition are also becoming more common in healthcare for security.
- It is also important to make sure critical medical devices are separated from the broader network by digital firewalls that can prevent the spread of ransomware or malware between systems.
- Using intrusion detection systems, which are highly sophisticated technical tools that can detect malware, can also be extremely helpful. Such tools can determine whether a piece of software is communicating with an IP address it should not be contacting.
If You Have Been Affected
If you or a loved one has been affected as the result of a hospital ransomware attack, you may be able to seek compensation for the tremendous losses you may have suffered because of a hospital’s negligence and failure to safeguard its patient population. You may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit or join a class action lawsuit, depending on the types of injuries, damages, or losses you may have sustained.