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Cyber attacks can compromise your protected health information (PHI) at any moment. Whether you store your own digital documents or entrust record management to a third-party custodian, preventing unnecessary hacks is crucial to your privacy and safety. 

This blog post will explore some of the most startling ransomware examples in healthcare settings. It will also highlight the preventive measures many organizations use to avoid worst-case scenarios — ensuring the safety of sensitive patient data and the continuity of critical healthcare services. 

Consider the following information, then contact our team at ChartRequest to see how our release of information (ROI) software can safeguard your digital record transfers year-round.

What Qualifies as a Ransomware Attack?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that locks users out of their devices and blocks access to critical data until the victim pays a ransom. Cybercriminals usually leave their victims with two difficult choices:

  1. Pay the ransom in the hope of regaining access to data
  2. Refuse to comply and potentially lose sensitive information forever

This distinct form of cybercrime has seen a significant surge in recent years, with healthcare being a prime target. According to NPR, six in ten healthcare organizations suffered ransomware attacks in 2022. 

Hackers can deploy ransomware attacks through a variety of different channels and tools. Common tactics include:

The Cost of a Ransomware Attack

Some IT security professionals can reset digital networks and quarantine threats to resolve low-level ransomware attacks. However, sophisticated hacks can result in devastating economic losses and operational setbacks. 

Comparitech estimates that U.S. healthcare organizations lose between $9.5 million and $19.3 million per year to ransomware. 

How Ransomware Impacts the Healthcare Industry

Ransomware attacks in the healthcare sector are particularly impactful due to the data involved and the industry’s dependence on digital systems. For instance, medical records, patients’ personal information, and critical research data are all potential targets in these attacks. 

Ransomware attacks can disrupt critical hospital operations, delay release of information requests, and compromise overall patient care. Dr. Hannah Neprash — an expert in health policy and economics — states that in-hospital mortality increases to around 35% for patients who enter a hospital during a significant ransomware attack.

Many healthcare professionals feel compelled to pay ransoms quickly to restore day-to-day operations and protect their patients’ well-being. Unfortunately, this urgency incentivizes cybercriminals to target other facilities that may respond similarly. In the next section, you will see ransomware examples in healthcare that emphasize this growing problem.

Most healthcare organizations also face long-term reputational damage following a ransomware attack. Trust is crucial to patient-provider relationships, and a data breach can significantly undermine confidence. 

Furthermore, U.S. healthcare institutions have a legal obligation to protect patient data under legislation like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Non-compliance due to a cyber attack can lead to severe fines, adding financial headaches to an already strenuous situation.

Examples of Ransomware Attacks in Recent History

Ransomware attacks have surged in recent years, targeting even the most prominent healthcare institutions. These high-profile incidents underscore the severity and far-reaching effects of modern data breaches. Here are some examples of ransomware in healthcare that reflect the urgent need for robust cybersecurity measures in the record-sharing process:

Norton Healthcare

In May 2023, Norton Healthcare — a respected clinic and medical group — experienced a ransomware attack after hackers accessed its medical record system for nearly two days. Following a six-month investigation, cybersecurity experts concluded that the strike caused around 2.5 million losses in protected health information, including:

  • Individual contact information
  • Social Security numbers
  • Date of birth
  • Health insurance information
  • Medical ID numbers

Spokesmen for Norton Healthcare noted that the organization did not yield to ransom demands and continues to mitigate the incident. The group also promises to alert individuals who it suspects lost information in the attack. However, this courtesy may not protect Norton Healthcare from future lawsuits or HIPAA-related penalties. 

Ardent Health Services

Ardent Health Services is a leading healthcare provider across the United States. In November 2023, the organization became aware of a significant data breach caused by a ransomware attack. The breach potentially exposed members’ PHI in six states and over 200 facilities.

At the time of this writing, ongoing investigations continue to uncover the nature of the ransomware attack. Ardent Health Services remains transparent about the hack, stating that its cybersecurity personnel acted in accordance with standard security policies during its response.

Enzo Biochem

Enzo Biochem — a renowned medical product and research firm — fell victim to a ransomware attack in April 2023. Cybercriminals breached the organization’s security systems and encrypted nearly 2.5 million individuals’ sensitive data. Exposed records included patients’ personal information, research data, and other proprietary logs. 

The attack severely interrupted the firm’s operations, forcing it to disconnect from its systems temporarily. The incident also highlighted the vulnerability of healthcare research firms and the critical necessity for robust cybersecurity measures.

Enzo Biochem took immediate steps to resolve the attack. However, the organization is subject to HIPAA and may spend much of the near future navigating financial and reputational recovery. Ransomware examples in healthcare like this demonstrate hackers’ willingness to target non-clinic and hospital facilities to collect data. 

MCNA Dental

One of the largest dental insurance providers in the United States confronted a significant ransomware attack in February 2023. Hackers infiltrated MCNA Dental’s record system, compromising patient data across various states.

Some of the data captured during the breach included:

  • Names
  • Addresses
  • Email information
  • Driver’s license IDs
  • Government IDs
  • Insurance plans
  • Billing statements
  • And more

The breach disrupted the company’s services and posed an enormous risk to the privacy of over 9 million individuals. MCNA Dental responded promptly, implementing a crisis management strategy to mitigate the damage and restore their systems. 

The LockBit ransomware gang claimed responsibility for the breach, threatening to publish over 700GB of confidential data unless MCNA paid $10 million.

CommonSpirit Health

Ransomware hackers targeted CommonSpirit Health in October 2022, raising cybersecurity alarms in over 100 facilities across 13 states. This sizable non-profit hospital chain completed a comprehensive investigation of the attack, revealing that cybercriminals accessed and stole files from its secure electronic record system. The cybercriminals managed to encrypt extensive personal data on half a million patients and over three dozen associated healthcare companies.

CommonSpirit Health became subject to lawsuits related to the data leak. Many patients argue that the organization did not deploy reasonable measures to comply with the privacy and security standards expected within the industry. Subsequent litigation places the company in a challenging financial bind.

Florida Orthopaedic Institute

Employees at the Florida Orthopaedic Institute became aware of a ransomware attack in April 2020, just weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, the organization had to restructure its cybersecurity response while remaining compliant with growing quarantine mandates and patient demands. The hack revealed PHI data from nearly 650,000 individuals.

Despite the Florida Orthopaedic Institute’s best efforts to minimize losses, numerous patients stepped forward to pursue litigation. Involved parties reached a $4 million settlement by 2022. The organization remains communicative about the attack and claims to be restructuring its security policies and training to prevent similar disasters in the future. 

Atlantic General Hospital

While many ransomware examples in healthcare demonstrate the threat that hacking poses to large-scale organizations, some cybercriminals prefer smaller, more vulnerable targets. For example, Atlantic General Hospital notified more than 30,000 patients about a significant information breach in March 2023. More than 100,000 more individuals received notice about their compromised data following a summer-long investigation.

Some of the stolen information included:

  • Patient names
  • Physician names
  • Diagnosis and treatment information
  • Dates of service
  • And more

Smaller healthcare facilities often struggle to mitigate ransomware attacks. In some cases, one-off attacks on individual hospitals can threaten their very existence as healthcare providers. This particular attack forced Atlantic General Hospital to temporarily suspend its imaging, lab, and pharmacy services until it could resolve the issue.

According to the hospital’s CEO, they did not concede to hacker demands.

How To Fortify Your Healthcare Organization Against Ransomware Attacks

Healthcare institutions hold an abundance of susceptible information, from patient records and insurance information to research data and personal identification. If this data falls into the wrong hands — or suffers accessibility obstructions — it can cause substantial harm to your organization. As such, understanding best practices for ransomware prevention is the first step to building a robust defense strategy.

In the face of growing cybersecurity threats, your healthcare facility must establish an effective policy against hacks. Preparation and proactive measures are key, as they can substantially minimize the potential impact of a ransomware incident. Providing education and training to staff, implementing a multi-layered security approach, and ensuring regular data backups are just some of the many steps you can take to fortify your network.

Employee Training

Establishing a cybersecurity awareness culture within your healthcare organization is critical. Human error serves as the entry point for most cyber attacks. Hence, training your staff to identify suspicious activities and carefully handle sensitive data is a crucial step. 

Practical methods include:

Digital Reinforcement

Deploying a multi-layered security approach is critical. This method involves several measures, such as:

  • Regularly updating and patching all systems, software, and devices to minimize vulnerabilities
  • Employing advanced threat detection tools and firewalls to halt breaches
  • Enforcing strict access controls and ensuring that employees only have access to the data they need to perform their jobs
  • Utilizing encryption for all stored and transmitted data to prevent unauthorized access

Data Transfer and Backup Technology

Routine data backup is essential in the healthcare industry. This responsibility ensures that your organization can restore its systems without yielding to ransom demands in the event of a cyber attack. To ensure functionality and reliability, perform data backups frequently, keep critical systems offsite, and test them regularly.  

These methods will allow your medical facility to operate smoothly and provide critical care services, even in the face of a cyber threat.

Benefits of Investing in Third-Party ROI Services

You may wonder, “How else can I prevent my organization from becoming like one of the ransomware examples in healthcare mentioned above?”

Investing in third-party Release of Information services can reduce your risk of experiencing ransomware disasters. ROI product specialists — like ChartRequest — excel in managing and safeguarding sensitive data, utilizing advanced security measures that many healthcare organizations do not have in-house.

By choosing these modern solutions, you can protect millions of PHI records with:

  • Secure data storage 
  • Virtually unbreakable encryption at rest and in transit
  • Updated protective measures against potential cyber threats
  • Speedy and direct communication
  • User-friendly dashboard reporting

Third-party ROI services provide a crucial layer of protection by conducting regular data access audits, thereby identifying potential vulnerabilities or breaches early on. These audits can help your organization detect unauthorized access attempts, making it possible to respond to potential threats quickly.

Furthermore, tiered access controls implemented by ChartRequest can ensure that data is only accessible to those who genuinely need it. This solution reduces the risk of internal breaches and HIPAA violations. 

ChartRequest Is Here To Help

Don’t let cybercriminals hold your patients’ personal information hostage. At ChartRequest, we are proud to be a leading medical record retrieval and management services provider. Our team commits itself to enhancing data security and combating the threat of ransomware attacks in healthcare organizations like yours. 

We offer a modern suite of record-retrieval products designed to handle sensitive information with the utmost care and compliance. By leveraging our advanced Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML), you can expect a swift and robust encryption system for your digital healthcare data.

Partner with us at ChartRequest to improve patient trust, comply with HIPAA regulations, and enjoy peace of mind in the face of escalating cyber threats.

Explore more ransomware examples in healthcare today. Contact ChartRequest to test our high-end ROI solutions before you commit.

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