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Why the Healthcare Industry Is a Prime Target for Cyberattacks

Why the Healthcare Industry Is a Prime Target for Cyberattacks

Why the Healthcare Industry Is a Prime Target for Cyberattacks

Healthcare has transformed radically in recent years, with the help of emerging digital technologies and innovative processes that have taken the industry into a new era.

With this new era, however, comes uncertainty. As the health sector evolves through accelerated growth in certain areas, others are left vulnerable. One of these fundamental areas is cybersecurity. A key challenge for the healthcare sector is to provide a level of protection that aligns with the technologies and processes that have emerged in recent years.

Modern healthcare’s ability to protect patient data and provide a stable infrastructure capable of withstanding cyberattacks is questionable. A new approach is needed. In this article, we take a look at the most important aspects of cybersecurity for beginners in the healthcare sector. We also analyze the most common cyber threats in the industry and their effect on patients, as well as evaluate the best solutions for this continual problem.

What is the cybersecurity situation in the health sector today?

No other industry is impacted by cybercrime as much as healthcare. IBM’s latest Cost of a Data Breach Report found that, for the 12th year in a row, healthcare had the highest average data breach cost of any industry. 

This rising cost shows no sign of slowing down – in fact, according to IBM’s report, data breach costs in healthcare have increased by 42% since 2020.

As the figures above show, modern healthcare systems worldwide are increasingly vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. And this exposure takes on an added weight when you consider the sensitivity of the data within the sector.

But where are all these breaches coming from? Are they down to actual cyberattacks or can they be explained by human error? Well, both; but the majority are now from malicious actors. Verizon’s DBIR (Data Breach Investigations Report) 2022 found that basic web application attacks have overtaken miscellaneous errors as the primary cause of data breaches in the healthcare sector. 

A key aspect that explains why the healthcare industry is a prime target for cybersecurity attacks is the outdated infrastructure that is typical of many hospitals. A solution to this is to upgrade or update this infrastructure, which can prove extremely expensive and beyond the reach of many hospitals, due to budgetary restrictions. 

Malicious actors are not only targeting hospitals within the healthcare sector. In fact, when considering cybersecurity within the healthcare sector, there are two separate areas of focus. 

  • The insurance sector: insurance companies tend to have lots of sensitive and personal data. In addition, they are usually financially strong companies, making them a more attractive proposition for ransomware attacks.
  • Hospital sector: while hospitals also hold sensitive patient data, the main reason for targeting them is the importance of the data. It can be critical for the health of patients and therefore ransomware payments are often easier to extract, despite the lower budget when compared to the insurance sub-sector.

Cybersecurity 101: Must-know threats to the healthcare sector

Let’s delve into the details and break down the biggest threats to cybersecurity within the industry today.

Web application attacks

A web application attack is an attempt to exploit vulnerabilities within the code of a web application – either through the client or server side. This is done in order to gain access to valuable information such as personal data or financial details within the database. Attackers also carry out web application attacks to access an organization’s internal infrastructure and perform unauthorized actions or disrupt the function of the application. 

The most common web application attacks are SQL injection (SQLi), cross-site scripting (XSS), remote code execution (RCE), login bypass, and sensitive information disclosure.


Malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a ransom is paid, ransomware is a growing problem in the healthcare sector. In fact, more than 1 in 3 healthcare organizations around the world were recent victims of a ransomware attack

Cybercriminals know just how valuable and sensitive patient data is, which gains them extra leverage when it comes to ransomware demands.


A relatively new form of cyberattack, cryptojacking involves hijacking an institute’s computing resources (such as electricity and hardware) with the purpose of generating or mining cryptocurrencies for free. 

Cryptojacking is an increasingly popular method for attackers as, unlike ransomware, it doesn’t require complicity from the victim. Just a few lines of code are required and the attack can take place without the victim even being aware. 

Man-in-the-middle (MiTM) attacks

An increasingly problematic form of security breach that is particularly prevalent in the healthcare industry, MiTM attacks occur when cybercriminals place themselves in the middle of internal communications or data transfers. The purpose is to obtain sensitive data.

Often, MiTM attacks are carried out in close proximity to the victims, through an unsecured WiFi network, for example. However, with the rise of AI-driven technologies in the healthcare industry, new approaches have emerged that can intercept communications between medical devices. This is particularly aimed at devices using cloud or IoT technology.

Data breaches 

Data within healthcare is especially sensitive. It contains information on patients’ health and well-being, so when a breach happens, the consequences are even more serious than they are for other sectors.

Healthcare data breaches are far more prevalent and costly compared to other industries. And, with the increased use of third-party vendors, it’s no surprise that the majority of data breaches happen externally. A massive 90% of healthcare data breaches can be attributed to third-party vendors, showing just how important it is to take a joined-up approach to cybersecurity. 


This refers to software created to perform harmful actions on a computer system, all without the user’s knowledge. Cybercriminals can use malware to disable entire operating systems, preventing users from accessing critical information.

Misinformation or disinformation

Misinformation refers to non-malicious threats that can be attributed to human error or faults within the configuration of IT systems. While miscellaneous errors causing breaches within healthcare have dropped significantly in recent years, they still account for around 20% overall.

Unlike misinformation, disinformation has intention behind it. This is defined as the deliberate spreading of misleading information. 

Email phishing

The most common form of ‘social engineering’ – a term that means to deceive users online – phishing attacks trick users into clicking on a link, sending sensitive personal data, or transferring money.

Phishing attacks pose a significant threat to the industry. During a recent UK NHS study, around 2-3% of all emails to the healthcare organization were regarded as suspicious. This amounts to millions of virus-packed emails a year. 

Supply chain threats

The increased complexity and interdependence of the healthcare supply chain have seen a dramatic increase in the incidences and consequences of cyber incidents. 

From leaking sensitive data, particularly via third-party vendors across the supply chain, to increased disruption of the actual supply chain itself, the healthcare industry finds itself more and more vulnerable to cyber incidents. 

How do cyberattacks affect patients?

Although cyberattacks clearly have a profound financial impact on the healthcare industry, the very tangible effect on the lives of patients runs even deeper. Cyber incidents affect patients in the following ways:

  • Delays or postponements to everything from routine appointments to urgent medical procedures
  • Delays to emergency treatments through system shutdowns due to malware or ransomware attacks
  • Leaking of personal data, including medical records, financial data, and other sensitive information
  • Malfunction of medical devices before or during medical procedures
  • Decreased patient aftercare performance, affecting patient recovery
  • Diminished confidence in the healthcare system as a whole  

Cybersecurity for beginners – what’s the best way to protect yourself? 

Improving the cybersecurity posture of healthcare organizations is a big challenge. Decision-makers within the industry are tasked with not just mitigating the huge financial consequences of poor cyber-hygiene and outdated protection, but also looking after patients’ best interests in an ever-changing threat landscape.

Here are our best tips for healthcare providers when it comes to cybersecurity practices and protection.  

Increased training

The most important aspect when it comes to cybersecurity for beginners is to gain knowledge. As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. 

Basic cybersecurity for beginners training is an excellent way to improve cybersecurity posture at a fundamental level. Healthcare employees should know how to avoid phishing emails and other types of malware, as well as the most elemental cybersecurity best practices. Awareness training helps to understand the importance of data and how to use it, while instilling good habits such as BYOK (bring your own key) techniques, which can help to prevent miscellaneous errors and reduce vulnerability to malicious cyber incidents.

Update devices and software

Improving the strength and reliability of a company’s infrastructure is a key part of protecting against cyber attacks. This can be done by ensuring that regular updates are made which, in turn, reduces vulnerabilities to data breaches, cyber-attacks, and any other compromises to the system. 

Developers consistently work to close security gaps within devices and software by releasing patches. These patches fix flaws and make it harder for attackers to gain access to the infrastructure of an organization. Software such as operating systems, browsers, antivirus, and third-party apps should all be a key focus. Ensuring automatic updates are set up, considering how firmware updates are managed, and using mobile device management (MDM) are important factors.

Use expert MDR services

MDR (Managed Detection and Response) services blend human intelligence and expertise with technical ingenuity to provide optimal continuous cybersecurity protection to organizations. MDR teams monitor alerts across the entire infrastructure while actively pursuing, detecting, and eliminating cybersecurity issues.

An increasing number of organizations worldwide are turning to MDR services. According to a recent report by Gartner, an estimated 50% of organizations around the world will use MDR services by 2025

Ackcent is recognized by Gartner as an MDR provider with a managed detection and response structure that combines machine-learning threat intelligence tools, behavioral analytics, and human expertise to take the burden off healthcare systems by providing a robust cybersecurity infrastructure.

We have specific experience providing expert incident response for non-customers that have no detection and response services in place, as well as creating bespoke security systems for organizations across multiple sectors, including healthcare.

Our services also focus on device security, a key concern for healthcare organizations. We monitor key suspicious healthcare devices, providing the necessary analytics to conduct both reactive and proactive threat investigations. 

Our clients benefit from 24×7 monitoring, proactive threat investigations, and the knowledge that 97% of attacks on companies with MDR services in place are unsuccessful. 

Get in touch today if you would like to know more about how Ackcent’s MDR services can improve the cybersecurity of your organization.