Tips for Healthcare Organizations to Prevent Phishing Attacks


prevent phishing attacks


When it comes to protecting the sensitive data from malicious attacks, like other industries healthcare it consulting organizations also have been struggling for a long time. As the phishing attacks have been on a rise and have gotten more advanced, they have affected 76% of organizations in 2017 and 92.4% of those attacks were delivered through email.

It was disclosed in the 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report by Verizon that the healthcare organizations had been victimized by the data breaches and phishing attacks in comparison to other industries in 2017. The report also revealed that the healthcare it consulting was the only industry where the insider threats were greater than the outside attacks—where the hackers are able to access inside information mostly because of human error.

What is a Phishing Attack and How it can be identified?

Phishing is a severe kind of threat to every industry including the healthcare it consulting organizations. A phishing attack often takes place when the hackers send an email misrepresenting themselves as someone with authorization—in an attempt to get access to the sensitive data—such as in case of healthcare organizations, access to the healthcare records.

The sent emails most of the times imitate the email address or signature of a trustworthy source with the intention of tricking the recipients into clicking the link within the email. For instance, hackers can pretend to be a manager or a vendor. The email you receive from them resembles other authorized emails, have minor errors that are difficult to identify at a quick glance.

As soon as the recipients click on the email link, they provide the attackers direct access to their network and personal digital data—which may consist of a huge amount of patient medical records. According to the Symantec’s 2018 Internet Security Threat Report, there many types of phishing attacks but the most common of them are disguised fake invoices.

Why Phishing Attacks Target Healthcare Industry?

When phishing attacks are targeted towards healthcare industry, there are either of the two purposes—to get access to PHI (Protected Health Information) or to distribute ransomware. PHI has now become a valued asset on the black market, for, it can be utilized to develop fake identities, get free medical treatment, and carry out insurance frauds. Once the ransomware is installed on healthcare it consulting organization’s network, it makes easy for the hackers to demand heavy ransoms for unblocking the encrypted files.

Despite the fact that healthcare organizations have been providing online security training to their employees, the number of phishing attacks is rising day by day. A majority of the successful phishing attacks took place due to the growing number of the employees utilizing their mobile devices at the workplace and their failure to use their online security training during the activities performed on these devices. The healthcare organizations are required to double their efforts for protecting the health data from phishing attacks as the adoption of BOYD (bring your own device) policies have also increased in the healthcare industry.

How Phishing Attacks Are Deployed to the Healthcare IT Industry?

Prior to describing how the healthcare it consulting companies can protect their data from phishing attacks, it is better to define how these attacks are deployed to the healthcare industry. Even though these attacks through social media and mal-advertising also came into knowledge but a majority of the phishing attacks on the healthcare organizations are distributed through email. Usually, the communications seem to be authentic, and the recipients are asked to follow a link to a web page—where they are instructed to carry out some actions that can trigger a malware download or they are asked to enter their username and password to continue.

It isn’t necessary that the malware download may have ransomware. Sometimes spying software like adware and keystroke loggers are downloaded in order to follow the employees’ online actions and record their usernames and passwords. While some other types of malicious software are downloaded to generate gateways for hackers to access a company’s network remotely. Given that if a phishing attack is successful to get a username and password, the hacker can easily get access to the PHI.

How Healthcare Organizations Can Prevent Phishing Attacks?

The best practice for healthcare it consulting organizations to prevent the phishing attacks is to train their employees by generating their own stimulated phishing emails and send them to the users. It is as easy as providing the employees with an opportunity to exercise differentiating between authentic and malicious emails.

It is an obvious fact that the employees are never going to enhance their capacity of identifying the phishing emails unless they are provided with the opportunity to practice apart from a formal training session. Therefore, the most appropriate way to provide the employees with such opportunity is to have an anti-phishing program in place. The responsible personnel can generate realistic phishing patterns, send them to the employees, and follow their activities with time. Here are some important tips for the healthcare it consulting organizations to boost the effectiveness of their anti-phishing program:

Being Real Matters

Generating phishing simulations wouldn’t be fruitful unless they are similar to the original phishing attacks. To create realistic simulations, the organization must have:

  • A source of phishing intellect, containing healthcare-specific mockups
  • Skilled phishing professional to own the program and generate the phishing simulations
  • The enthusiasm to step by step escalate the complexity with time and remain dedicated to the program

Describe Success

The employees being able to identify and delete the phishing emails is not enough anymore. If the healthcare organizations really want to fight off these attacks, they need to make sure that the employees report the identified ones. Here are three reasons why:

  • Reported phishing emails can be useful to improve the technical controls and separate the malicious emails
  • Real reported phishing emails can be utilized to notify prospect simulations
  • Having something to track makes it easier to keep a track of the progress

Training for Weak Points

To overcome the weak points in the anti-phishing program training, a good rule of thumb is to train the employees only when they are needed to be. The healthcare organizations can provide on-the-spot digital training the moment an employee fails one the simulations. The “point-of-failure training” must focus on a particular type of phishing email the employee recently received and failed to pinpoint, for, this can escalate their learning.

Consistency is King

Having an anti-phishing program isn’t a one-shot solution for the healthcare it consulting organizations. It is imperative to have this program running persistently for a long time period in order to cultivate and maintain the skills required in the employees to identify the constantly advancing phishing attacks.

Although it’s not an easy task to make decisions concerning the maintenance of security and accessibility of health data, yet the healthcare organizations can mitigate the increasing cyber-attacks by having the right security management solutions in use.

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