What Cyberattacks Mean for the U.S. Health System

For many smartphone-using Americans, this past Friday evening and the weekend likely included a flurry of news alerts about a wave of coordinated ransomware attacks that hit in 99 countries throughout the world. While details are still emerging, cybersecurity experts have identified more than 75,000 attacks, including some that targeted 16 National Health Service (NHS) organizations in the UK. What does this mean for health systems here in the U.S., and what can organizations and patients do to protect themselves? As Healthcare IT News and others first reported, many health care organizations, with help from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), have been attempting to bolster their networks’ defenses.

Per CNN and others, the ransomware, called “WannaCry,” denies an impacted user access to his or her computer files unless he or she makes a “ransom” payment. The tool became available as part of the leak of National Security Agency (NSA) spy tools this spring, and it targets users of Windows. At a time when health care data breaches have constantly made headlines—leading to questions about how seriously some hospitals are taking cybersecurity—organizations appear to be seeing the WannaCry situation as a wakeup call. Kansas City-based Children’s Mercy Hospital IT administrator Darin Prill told Healthcare IT News that his organization was taking steps to make sure that all employees were aware of the ransomware and how to respond to it. “Ensuring they understand the threat and the exposure and explaining in easy to understand language sets up that first line of defense,” he explained. Others are making sure that all patches are up to date and forming teams to continuously monitor the situation, working in collaboration with their vendors. For its part, HHS has been providing guidance, issuing alerts, and holding conference calls with organizations.

For people and organizations seeking to protect themselves from future attacks, MarketWatch’s Mike Murphy also offers some simple tips. First, he encourages Windows users to make sure that they are running the latest operating system version. Second, all data should be backed up—ideally, in the cloud or on an external hard drive. Third, proceed with caution when opening messages: “Especially now, be wary of any unsolicited e-mails asking you to click on a link, or download a file,” he notes. Finally, anti-virus software is critical: “Scans can block viruses from being downloaded, and prevent malware from being installed,” Murphy says.

Click here for the article from Healthcare IT News about how health care organizations are preparing.

Click here for the article from CNN on the ransomware attacks.

Click here for tips from MarketWatch on protecting against cyberattacks. 


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