Universal Healthcare Services cyber attack: The ceasefire against medical organisations has now ended

Universal Healthcare Services, which runs 400 hospitals and facilities in the UK and the US, has suffered an outage as a result of a suspected cyber-attack. In the early days of the pandemic, some ransomware syndicates publicly announced they would stop all activity against medical organisations until a stabilisation of the coronavirus situation. Clearly, that ceasefire has now ended.

Over the past few years, ransomware attacks have only become easier to launch, and attackers increasingly are targeting healthcare organisations where cyber defenses may be less sophisticated and employees less savvy about how to spot threats. While providers typically have strong cybersecurity protections in place, many lack a mature cyber response plan and even sophisticated organisations may not have the resources and expertise needed to initiate a successful recovery process. There have been several examples of attacks against small providers and practices that caused them to permanently close their doors after attackers encrypted and destroyed servers containing vital data and backup hard drives.

Attackers rightly recognise ransomware as an easy, effective way to garner financial gain. This dynamic is exacerbated by organisations that opt to pay the ransom — which perpetuates this cycle and leads to more attacks.

Additionally, with IoT devices increasingly finding their way into all levels of healthcare, security and IT administrators must be aware of the risks they pose – and understand how the new threat vectors opened up by connected devices can potentially be exploited by attackers to harm the organisation. The IoT has essentially been built on top of infrastructure that is fundamentally vulnerable to cyber threats – the Internet was not initially created with security in mind. To avoid becoming a target, healthcare organisations must be proactive in their approach to cybersecurity and make it a priority to safeguard all IoT-based systems.”

The loopholes are numerous, and many healthcare organisations lack the resources and manpower required to manage the kinds of dynamic threats they might face. They must manage a mix of IoT devices, cloud-based apps and legacy systems that require regular patching and updating. This often includes connected equipment running on Windows – devices that can be easily overlooked during an IT audit. Many organisations simply don’t have the level of manpower required to oversee a robust cybersecurity program. Healthcare organisations face an uphill battle to protect themselves from the kinds of dynamic threats they face.



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