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HIMSS Draws Attention to Five Current Cybersecurity Threats

In its October Cybersecurity report, HIMSS draws attention to five current cybersecurity threats that could potentially be used against healthcare organizations to gain access to networks and protected health information.

Wi-Fi Attacks

Security researchers have identified a new attack method called a key reinstallation (CRACK) attack that can be conducted on WiFi networks using the WPA2 protocol. These attacks take advantage of a flaw in the way the protocol performs a 4-way handshake when a user attempts to connect to the network. By manipulating and replaying the cryptographic handshake messages, it would be possible to reinstall a key that was already in use and to intercept all communications. The use of a VPN when using Wi-Fi networks is strongly recommended to limit the potential for this attack scenario and man-in-the-middle attacks.

BadRabbit Ransomware

Limited BadRabbit ransomware attacks have occurred in the United States, although the NotPetya style ransomware attacks have been extensive in Ukraine. As with NotPetya, it is believed the intention is to cause disruption rather than for financial gain. The attacks are now known to use NSA exploits that were also used in other global ransomware attacks. Mitigations include ensuring software and operating systems are kept 100% up to date and all patches are applied promptly. It is also essential for that backups are regularly performed. Backups should be stored securely on at least two different media, with one copy stored securely offsite on an air-gapped device.

Advanced Persistent Threats

A campaign conducted by an APT group known as Dragonfly has been ongoing since at least May 2017. The APT group is targeting critical infrastructure organizations. The typical attack scenario is to target small networks with relatively poor security, and once access has been gained, to move laterally to major networks with high value assets. While the group has primarily been attacking the energy sector, the healthcare industry is also at risk. Further information on the threat and the indicators of compromise can be found on the US-CERT website.

DDE Attacks

In October, security researchers warned of the risk of Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) attacks targeting Outlook users. This attack scenario involves the use of calendar invites sent via phishing emails. The invites are sent in Rich Text Format, and opening the invites could potentially result in the installation of malware. Sophos warned of the threat and suggested one possible mitigation is to view emails in plaintext. These attacks will present a warning indicating attachments and email and calendar invites contain links to other files. Users should click no when asked to update documents with data from the linked files.

Medical Device Security

HIMSS has drawn attention to the threat of attacks on medical devices, pointing out that these are a soft-spot and typically have poor cybersecurity protections. As was pointed out with the APT critical infrastructure attacks, it is these soft spots that malicious actors look to take advantage of to gain access to networks and data. HIMSS has warned healthcare organizations to heed the advice of analysts, who predict the devices will be targeted with ransomware. Steps should be taken to isolate the devices and back up any data stored on the devices, or the computers and networks to which they connect.

Medical device security was also the subject of the Office for Civil Rights October cybersecurity newsletter.

While not specifically mentioned in its list of current cybersecurity threats, the threat from phishing is ongoing and remains one of the most serious threats to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI. The threat can be reduced with anti-phishing defenses such as spam filtering software and with training to improve security awareness.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.