The past few years have seen cyber-attackers launching sophisticated malware on healthcare organizations causing so much damages. Using various ransomware, threat actors encrypt the system or the device of the various healthcare organizations in the US and deny them access to patients’ records and other important information, demanding a ransom to provide them with the decryption key.
According to the Comparitech, an investigation was launched into the cost incurred on these attacks in the last 4 years, and the amount was insane. Healthcare organizations suffered a total cost of $157 million on ransomware attacks since 2016.
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In order to come out with an accurate figure, the researchers took into consideration all attacks on the US healthcare organizations since 2016. They considered attacks that affected more than 500 people. According to them, attacks that affect less than 500 people are not captured by various reports by the US Department of Health Services unless incidents that led to a massive disruption of services. The researchers went through data breach reports, specialist IT news, and health service reporting tools.
The research applied studies on the cost of downtime of healthcare organizations in the US as a result of ransomware attacks.
The research revealed that about 172 separate ransomware attacks were launched in 1446 hospitals, clinics and organizations in the US in the year under review. According to the report, about 74% of affected organizations were hospitals and clinics, with the remaining affected departments being IT providers, elderly care providers, plastic surgeons, optometry practices, dental, medical testing, health insurance, medical supplies, and government health.
The report estimated that the downtime cost range from hours, weeks to months. It was recorded that the ransom demand from healthcare organizations ranged from $1600 to $14,000,000. Out of the analyzed data, 6649713 patients were affected by the ransomware attack. The research also revealed that threat actors had made a ransom demand of about $16.48 million from victims since 2016. However, they have received about $640,000 from healthcare organizations in the last 4 years according to the report, California had the most ransomware attack incidents on healthcare organizations since 2016.
California has a fair concentration of such organizations in the US leading to this figure. Texas followed with 14 massive attacks on organizations. In terms of the patients affected by the incident, Michigan took the lead with two separate breaches which affected 1.1 million patients.
The report estimated that about 753,000 patients’ records were affected in the data breach against hospital networks in California. From this figure, the Pacific Alliance Medical Center had 266123 patients records affected. Also, Centerlake Medical group had a total of 197661. In terms of the year that had the most data breaches on healthcare organizations in the US, the figures have been up and down in the last 4 years.
There were 36 ransomware attacks on the various healthcare organizations in the US in 2016. The figure rose in 2017 with a total of 57 cases. The figure decreased to 31 in 2018 and surged again to 50 in 2019.
In terms of the cost involved in the ransomware attacks, the researchers could only obtain a handful of information as they managed to obtain cost incurred in just 16 incidents out of the 172 incidents. Most of the providers refused to release these data. The ransom demand by threat actors of $16.48 million was the amount of just 16 cases. Wisconsin-based firm Virtual Care Provider.Inc alone accounted for $14 million of the $16.48 ransom demands according to the report.
In addition, only 21 of the affected companies admitted to paying the ransom to the threat actors. 7 organizations disclosed how much they paid as ransom, and 66 claimed they did not meet the ransom demand. There were 85 unclear cases that did not specify whether the healthcare organizations paid the ransom or not. The research established that it was quite difficult to obtain ample information from health services for accurate analysis.
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According to the research, considering all the possible costs including the downtime and the ransom amount paid puts the cost of a ransomware attack on US healthcare organizations to close to $160 million through breaches that involved less than 500 people were not considered.
Healthcare organizations have been a target by ransomware attackers with many recorded incidents. Even though the patients’ records have been encrypted and exfiltrated by ransomware attackers in the past, it is more likely that the attacks will be worse in the future. This is largely due to the fact that threat actors are always upgrading their tools to silently operate for a long time without being detected. It is important for healthcare organizations to invest in cybersecurity and to ensure that there is no weakness for threat actors to take advantage as their downtimes can put patients’ lives at risk.
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