pandemic-inspired cyberattacks: security tips for organizations in the healthcare sector

Pandemic-Inspired Cyberattacks: Security Tips for Organizations in the Healthcare Sector

Healthcare organizations all over the world are under intense pressure to manage the extraordinary emergency that is the novel coronavirus. Adding to the overwhelming situation that they are already facing, healthcare organizations are also battling a dramatic increase in cybersecurity incidents linked to the pandemic. The current situation in healthcare provides the perfect breeding ground for various cybercriminal campaigns.

For instance, the healthcare sector has gone digital to adhere to social distancing and other pandemic-related restrictions. As a result, more healthcare professionals are working from home, using personal devices to access internal networks. Remote work, along with the increased reliance on digital technologies such as telehealth during the pandemic, has expanded the attack surface.

Cybersecurity Threats in the Healthcare Sector

The pandemic is widening the attack surface, leading to an increase in cyberattacks targeting healthcare institutions. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, all spheres of the healthcare industry are facing a range of increased cybersecurity risks. Phishing, ransomware, and data breaches targeting patient health and financial information are some of the most common attacks in healthcare.

How Healthcare Organizations and Their Employees Can Stay Protected

How do healthcare organizations deal with the elevated security threats during the coronavirus pandemic? Well, they can start by modeling their network infrastructure to proactively defend against all known threats, both internal and external. Here are some of the measures organizations in the healthcare sector can take to achieve this goal.

Promote Security Awareness and Education

The first step towards achieving security in healthcare organizations is promoting cybersecurity awareness. It’s imperative that hospitals effectively convey to the doctors, nurses, staff, and patients the heightened risk of phishing attacks linked to the coronavirus pandemic. Teach them how to recognize various social engineering threats plaguing the healthcare industry during the pandemic. Healthcare organizations should also provide their employees with the tools and knowledge they need to neutralize any threats that they may encounter.

Protect Personal Devices

During the pandemic, healthcare employees are using smartphones, tablets, and other personal devices to retrieve, transmit, and collect electronic health records. However, personal devices make health information and other data vulnerable to breach due to loss or theft. Use a combination of encryption, strong passwords, Two-Factor Authentication (2-FA), and other security measures to keep sensitive data held in these devices secure. In case of theft or loss, these measures can help organizations keep the data stored on personal devices safe from cybercriminals.

Install a VPN

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) uses protocols, servers, and encryption to conceal sensitive data from cybercriminals and other malicious actors on the internet. Using a VPN for security is one of the most effective ways to protect hospitals and other healthcare organizations against pandemic-related attacks. A VPN will keep hackers and other malicious actors from intercepting and stealing sensitive data, including login credentials and patient health records, over Wi-Fi networks.

Back-Up Your Data

Ransomware attacks, particularly against hospitals and public health organizations, have become very common during the pandemic. These attacks aim to disrupt hospital core services in order to extract a ransom. However, healthcare organizations can ensure continuity through effective backup and restore practices. If you have a copy of all the data on your systems stashed somewhere safe, you can quickly restore normal hospital operations in case all your data is locked or stolen in a ransomware attack.

Improve Security through Network Segmentation

Another effective technique that healthcare organizations can use to protect themselves against ransomware attacks is network segmentation. Network segmentation refers to the practice of splitting computer networks into smaller parts. The goal of network segmentation is to improve performance and security. Dividing your network into smaller subnetworks improves cybersecurity by limiting how far malware can spread. For instance, it can keep a ransomware attack in one segment from spreading to the entire network.

Deploy Antimalware

In addition to protecting your network from intrusion, organizations need to protect their systems from malware infestation. Malware, ransomware in particular, has been one of the most common cybersecurity threats in the healthcare sector during the pandemic. Healthcare organizations need to use a good anti-malware solution to protect their computer systems from viruses seeking to destroy, steal, or block access to critical data. A good antimalware service will also increase protection against phishing, password attacks, and provide robust web protection.

Update Your Software

The vast majority of Covid-19 inspired cyberattacks in the healthcare industry are exploiting inadequate controls such as unpatched systems and applications. Therefore, one of the most important things that health organizations can do to stay safe and secure is keeping their systems up to date. However, there’s a huge challenge when it comes to delivering essential updates for legacy systems. Legacy systems that are not easy to update or protect should be isolated from the network.

Upgrade or Replace Legacy Systems

The use of legacy systems and software is very common in the healthcare industry. While these antiquated systems could still be clinically useful, most of them rely on old insecure software and hardware to operate, leaving them vulnerable to a wide range of online threats. Legacy systems in most hospitals and public health organizations are the low-hanging fruit for attackers. To increase the security and resilience of these organizations, healthcare CISOs should strive to replace or upgrade unsupported systems where possible.

Implement an Incident Response and Disaster Recovery Plan

No matter what you do, it’s impossible to successfully defend against any cybersecurity threat aimed your way. It’s only a matter of time until cybercriminals are going to find a way to your system. Therefore, it’s essential for hospitals and public health organizations to formulate and implement an incident response and disaster recovery plan. Having a response plan that you can activate instantly with adequate resources will help you minimize damage and restore normal operations promptly in the event of an attack.


Cybersecurity has been an issue in healthcare for a long time, but the Covid-19 outbreak has made healthcare organizations a more lucrative target. Threat actors are taking advantage of the pandemic to launch phishing and ransomware attacks against healthcare institutions. Fortunately, there are certain steps that organizations in healthcare can take to mitigate these threats. Applying these fixes can significantly improve your organization’s security posture.




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