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Ten ransomware prevention strategies for healthcare providers

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Throughout the pandemic, cybercriminals have continued to target healthcare organizations. Indeed, cyber-attacks on healthcare organizations globally have increased at more than double the rate of other sectors. The costs of these attacks are measured in millions and increased risks to priceless patient privacy (and healthcare providers’ reputation).

With cyber-attacks continuing to evolve and proliferate, healthcare providers need to look at how they can prevent their organization from suffering the damages that result from ransomware. The following are some ransomware prevention strategies that healthcare providers should consider to keep both company and patient data safe.

1. Filter inbound emails

There are lots of choices for email filtering solutions that can serve as a first line of defense. Healthcare providers should look for software or filtering services that proactively scan and block spam, virus, and other threats in real-time before they can wreak havoc. Some use artificial intelligence (AI) to keep up with new threats and adapt defenses, while others use a Bayesian filter to detect and block personalized spam emails. It’s also worth choosing a solution that is easy to manage via a web browser, with customizable settings.

2. Keep firmware up to date

Software patches are frequently driven by newly discovered vulnerabilities. Healthcare organizations need to establish a regular assessment plan to confirm that all their critical applications, databases, and servers run the latest firmware, and immediately patch any that aren’t.

3. Develop a data protection strategy

If a business had their company audited by an outside firm, they should now have a detailed list of security issues to address. The same can be said for healthcare organizations. It might be as simple as upgrading to a newer and more sophisticated firewall, spam, antivirus, and backup solutions for many companies. For others, it could instigate a complex process involving a network infrastructure overhaul, new hardware, and more. If a business and their team aren't sure how best to proceed, they should consider working with an IT managed service provider who can do all the heavy lifting. Companies like these can also offer ongoing support and maintenance for their crucial systems.

 4. Evaluate security systems and firewalls

With more and more remotely connected devices—including IoT devices that present new potential vulnerabilities—healthcare organizations need to ensure that their endpoint security systems and firewalls work as expected. They also need to make sure that these protections are sufficient to keep their data secure, compliant, and available at all times. For organizations with remote workers, it’s more important than ever that these users connect to their company’s network via a secure virtual private network (VPN). Along the same lines, they need to ensure all patient records and patient processing systems are protected by encrypting all their data—both at rest and in transit.

5. Educate end-users, and train people

Even the most unwavering software and hardware is of no help if an employee is careless. Part of any ransomware prevention strategy should include a plan for helping users spot and avoid ransomware, and cybersecurity education should be a core element of an overall data protection strategy. Many businesses hold mandatory quarterly security seminars where admins help employees understand various types of cyber-attack. Team members must be trained so they can spot suspicious emails, attachments, or SMS attacks. They need to be educated and tested on social engineering attacks to understand that they should never click on a link or download an attachment unless they are 100 percent sure it is from a known sender, and they should have a general understanding of best practices for protecting devices and data. An efficient plan should cover everything from ransomware to phishing to the growing threats from social engineering scams.

It's important to also consider regular testing in order to keep a company’s network in good shape. This includes network vulnerability testing, testing backups, and testing employees—people are often the weak link in the security chain. That's why some businesses formulate strategies for testing employees.

6. Take regular backups

The best way to mitigate the fallout from a ransomware attack is to be prepared. That means backing up data frequently and replicating copies both to an offsite location and the cloud. Organizations will need to establish their recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) and ensure their backup solution can meet them. They should also look for a backup solution that takes regular, immutable snapshots that can’t be deleted or altered, preventing crypto-ransomware encryption. That way, organizations know their backed-up data is always safe, accessible, and recoverable.

7. Undertake a ransomware and security audit

There are numerous service providers that specialize in auditing businesses. It could be worth looking into working with an outside expert that helps identify vulnerabilities that their teams might not be aware of. These audits help businesses realize that they might have more exposure to risk than they first thought.

8. Count on the cloud

Cloud storage gives organizations fast access to offsite data and is one of the pillars of a sound backup strategy. Cloud storage can also be less expensive than on-premises storage while adding an additional layer of protection. Also, while even cloud-based data can be infected with ransomware that’s uploaded with a backup, sound backup practices can overcome just about any attack.

9. Don’t pay the ransom

While an attack will cause major problems, organizations should never pay a ransom. Cybercriminals often don’t give access even if companies do pay. It’s worth considering getting ransomware insurance to help mitigate the damage.

10. Be proactive

While all of these strategies are important for protecting against ransomware, organizations may still fall victim to a successful attack. That’s where planning makes the difference. With the right hardware, software, and best practices in place, they can recover quickly with minimal damage done. It’s time for every healthcare organization to get a serious security-health check-up that ensures they have a healthy security posture that can withstand even the most sophisticated ransomware attacks.

Florian Malecki, International Product Marketing Senior Director, StorageCraft (opens in new tab)

As International Product Marketing Director at StorageCraft, Mr. Florian Malecki drives the development of the vendor's data protection and storage solutions for the regions’ markets.