Cybersecurity in hospitals

Viruses in hospitals – Cybersecurity in the Corona pandemic

The corona pandemic is pushing hospitals and care facilities to their limits. And this also affects the cybersecurity of many facilities. According to Interpol, an increasing number of attacks on the IT network of hospitals has been reported in recent months.

Particularly in the USA, the FBI has been warning since October about increasing cyber attacks on hospitals and the service providers connected to them. At the end of October, various facilities were successfully infected with so-called ransomware. Due to data encryption, the normal operation of the hospitals was no longer possible. Read more here.

But why do hospitals in particular offer such good targets for cyberattacks?

IoT implementation despite low security standards

Hospital IT is one thing in particular: historically grown. And that is exactly problem, in two respects. Historical means that sometimes not all operating systems and application structures are state-of-the-art. Often important security updates or patches are missing to protect the systems. At the same time, the technical infrastructure in the healthcare sector is growing rapidly due to the digitalization of various processes.

This affects medical devices that can communicate via IoT, but often also with the office network. The latter is potentially high-risk since an attack on office computers also affects the IoT devices in the background. Portable medical devices that remotely monitor patients’ vital signs could fail under certain circumstances. A cyber attack would therefore be life-threatening for patients.

Also, hospitals are using opportunities for further digital expansion in the area of office IT: new PCs, tablets, or other smart devices are being purchased that can be used to communicate patient data internally. However, these devices may not even be designed for use in a highly sensitive environment such as a hospital and do not comply with data protection laws or cybersecurity standards. Weak points in their security systems are therefore also ideal starting points for compromising the technical infrastructure.

Besides, some institutions are forced to cut costs and often lack the budget for adequate security of their IT systems. Although they invest in the latest technology, they lack the money and know-how for the corresponding security. And sometimes the clinics themselves are not in control of security installations. Whenever they are connected to third-party providers and their systems. Because even if their own IT has very good security standards, this is not necessarily right for external providers.

Cybersecurity – not just a matter of time

Lack of personnel and thus lack of time are unfortunately everyday life in the medical and nursing professions. Often there is not enough time for the actual work – so where do they get the time to deal with cybersecurity? Most people are probably familiar with simple rules such as switching on a lock screen as soon as you leave your desk or checking the sender of an e-mail. But often the necessary time and/or awareness of the dangers involved is lacking in everyday business life. Employee training courses on cybersecurity could help here – if only time and budget were available.

However, increased attention would make sense. Hospitals are public institutions and therefore easily accessible. Even if the measures in the corona period make access more difficult, it should at least be noted that reception in particular poses a potential cybersecurity risk. In an unattended moment, a potential attacker could enter the hospital’s IT system and could unnoticed install malware on the reception PC via a USB stick.

Also, modern hospitals themselves act as IT service providers. WIFI access is provided for patients and visitors. If the systems are not detached from the actual company network, a potential gateway for hackers is left open.

Increasing the endpoint security of the diverse hospital IT landscape

As you can see, hospitals and other medical facilities already have a diverse IT landscape as a unit. These interwoven areas make the entire IT system vulnerable as soon as a weakness becomes apparent. Due to the sensitivity and criticality of the data and the associated devices and procedures, they require very high security standards. Increasing the endpoint security of KRITIS facilities should therefore be a concern.

A mantra that not only we repeat again and again is the active training of employees, which as an organizational unit belongs to endpoint security: Education creates an awareness of possible sources of danger and how to prevent them. A well set up mail protection is also mandatory for a KRITIS institution.

Besides, Internet access should only be available on those devices that need it. RDP ports (Remote Desktop Protocol) should be secured in such a way that access from outside is not possible. And above all: business-critical areas and the visitor and patient WIFI should not be connected under any circumstances!

And – we can’t repeat this often enough – activate Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for all applications connected to business-critical networks. This provides a high hurdle against intrusion by unauthorized third parties and above all against compromising the systems by them.

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