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The Threat of Ransomware

Data security can be subject to many pitfalls – misplaced files, leaving documents open on computer screens, poor password choice and so on. Malicious software is another such threat; the last few years has seen the rise of a new one – something called Ransomware. Though it has been around since 2013, the last few months have seen a growth risk to the global medical industry.


What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software (or malware) that infects systems and restricts the access rights to data until a ransom has been paid. Some types simply encrypt the server data which the user must then buy a decryption key (typical demands are for bitcoins rather than hard currency) while others simply lock the system which the originator then promises to unlock upon payment.

Who is Affected?

Many businesses are at risk but three recent attacks on hospitals have put the global medical industry on alert. The highest-profile case was the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles. The facility declared an internal emergency after a Ransomware infection was discovered in early February. The hospital eventually paid out 40 bitcoins (around $17,000) to reacquire control of its system.

Within a week, Lukas hospital in Germany was also hit. They did not pay the ransom as they had system in place to prepare for such malware attacks. They did wipe the affected systems and restore from backups; this led to cancelled appointments for patients and lost working hours for employees. Titus Regional Medical Center in Texas was another victim in January. The Center called in experts in data forensics to restore their systems; they did not pay the ransom.

Protecting Against Malware

There are simple steps that medical professionals at all levels can take to protect their systems against all forms of malware.

  • -Invest in a good security system. Don’t cut corners financially as medical professionals handle sensitive data that require the highest levels of protection under HIPAA
  • -Train employees on proper data protection paying particular care to the threats of malicious software and hacking
  • -Should the worst happen, you need a back-up system. Regular archives should be kept in case of data loss by other methods – but particularly for malicious hacks
  • -Finally, have you considered outsourcing your medical record storage and retrieval? Record Grabber is a dedicated service that keeps up to date records and have a high awareness level of ongoing and new threats to medical data

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