A Season Of Health Breaches, A Season Of Changes

As spring ushers in a season of transformation, the healthcare sector finds itself at a crossroads, compelled to evolve rapidly in response to a series of recent, high-profile cyberattacks. One of the most significant incidents is the hack of Change Healthcare, a pivotal player in the U.S. healthcare system and a subsidiary of UnitedHealth. This organization, responsible for processing insurance and billing for hundreds of thousands of hospitals, pharmacies, and medical practices, holds sensitive health information on nearly half of all Americans. The breach profoundly impacted major entities like UnitedHealth, Walgreens, and CVS, carrying hefty financial repercussions and deeply affecting patient health. This incident underlines the critical need for systemic enhancements in cybersecurity and urgent reforms to safeguard sensitive data across the industry.

“Change” Was Changed

Following a cyberattack on February 21, UnitedHealth’s Change Healthcare continues to process over $14 billion of backlogged claims. UnitedHealth Group announced expectations for major clearinghouses to resume operations after a month-long effort to recover services that were disrupted nationwide, prompting a federal investigation. While critical services at Change Healthcare have been restored, UnitedHealth is cooperating with a HIPAA compliance investigation initiated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Addressing these issues will occupy Change Healthcare for the foreseeable future.

The outage, caused by a cyberattack from the ransomware gang known as ‘Blackcat,’ disrupted prescription deliveries and affected pharmacies across the country for multiple days. The breach continues to be investigated. Despite a recent crackdown on Blackcat, which included seizing its websites and decrypting keys, the hacker gang struck major businesses prior to this event and continues to threaten retaliation against critical infrastructure and hospitals in its wake.

A Sophisticated One-Two Punch

The health tech giant reportedly paid $22 million to ALPHV in March. Shortly after, a new hacking group began publishing portions of the stolen data in an effort to extort a second ransom payment from the company. The new gang, which calls itself RansomHub, published several files on the dark web that contained personal information about patients across an array of documents, some of which included internal files. RansomHub has stated it would sell the stolen data unless Change Healthcare paid a second ransom.

These recent incidents carry significant financial burdens and deeply impact patient health, emphasizing the urgent need for systemic change to bolster cybersecurity measures across the healthcare sector.

Change Now or Pay [Even More] Later

As of mid-April, UnitedHealth reported that the ransomware attack has cost more than $870 million in losses. Importantly, this is not the first—or only—time an organization has found itself exposed to such vulnerabilities. The recurring nature of these breaches underscores the urgent need for a paradigm shift in how the healthcare industry approaches cybersecurity. It’s not just about patching vulnerabilities as they arise, but fundamentally rethinking and fortifying digital defenses to withstand the relentless onslaught of cyber threats in today’s world. The cost of preventing such an attack could have been a small fraction of the $870 million paid in remediation costs.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

At the heart of the matter lies a complex web of security vulnerabilities. While healthcare organizations typically invest significant resources in securing their digital infrastructure, the recent breach underscores the sobering reality that even the most robust defenses can be compromised through misguided and parochial mindsets. Since the breach, it’s been revealed that only half of systems were adequately secured and patched, leaving a glaring gap that cybercriminals exploited with devastating consequences. This situation should serve as a catalyst for transformative change in the culture of Healthcare IT, prompting a reevaluation of existing security protocols and increased fortification of defenses through partnerships with capable service organizations.

These breaches, still unfolding, serve as a stark reminder of the constant vigilance required to protect against malicious cyberattacks in an industry where the stakes are exceptionally high, measured in human lives and the confidentiality of sensitive medical information. It is critical that the approach to cybersecurity strategies and implementations extends beyond traditional ROI calculations and reliance on already overstretched internal IT teams.

Check Box Compliance

When examining the breach, a crucial aspect to look at is the period of technological transition that at least one of the impacted organizations was navigating when the incidents occurred. Technology inherently evolves, yet it was during a pivotal moment of updating systems that the attackers found and exploited vulnerabilities. This situation starkly highlights the sophistication of cybercriminals in pinpointing and exploiting periods of vulnerability, reminding us of their relentless watchfulness for opportunities to infiltrate systems amidst organizational changes.

Moreover, this breach raises pertinent questions about the efficacy of regulatory compliance frameworks. These situations are heaped with compliance, however being compliant with industry regulations regarding the protection of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) health data clearly does not prevent incidents from occurring.

Healthcare Cybersecurity: A Call to Action

As we continue to navigate the relentless tide of cyber threats, the healthcare industry must confront the new realities of digital warfare that endanger countless lives and sensitive data. This challenge transcends the need for incremental changes; it calls for a revolutionary overhaul of our cybersecurity frameworks, strategies, and ROI models.

The recent breaches are a stark wake-up call, emphasizing the necessity for proactive and comprehensive security that anticipates threats before they emerge. It is crucial for healthcare leaders to prioritize investments in advanced security technologies and to cultivate a culture of collaboration by partnering with expert security service providers. These partnerships can integrate cyber resilience into the fabric of healthcare delivery. The cost of inaction is unacceptably high, not only in terms of financial losses but also in the erosion of patient trust, privacy, and wellbeing. Let us commit to safeguarding our future with every resource available, making security synonymous with healthcare itself.

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This article was originally published in Forbes, please follow me on LinkedIn.