The healthcare industry is one of the main targets for hackers, and while ransomware attacks have increased considerably in recent months and vulnerabilities in VPNs, RDP, and software solutions are frequently exploited, healthcare phishing attacks are far more common.
Phishing attacks on healthcare organizations allow threat actors to steal credentials to gain access to email accounts and other systems and steal highly sensitive data. Phishing emails are also used to deliver malware loaders such as the Emotet Trojan, which delivers other malware payloads such as the TrickBot banking Trojan, which in turn delivers ransomware.
Most cyberattacks start with a phishing email, so it is essential for healthcare organizations to ensure they implement safeguards to block these attacks and by doing so, prevent costly data breaches and regulatory fines.
The HHS’ Office for Civil Rights has imposed substantial fines on HIPAA-covered entities for data breaches that have started with a phishing email, including the two largest ever HIPAA fines issued to date – the $16 million financial penalty for Anthem Inc. for its 78.8 million-record data breach and the $6,850,000 penalty for Premera Blue Cross for its breach of the protected health information 10,466,692 individuals.
Tips to Prevent Healthcare Phishing Attacks…
Unfortunately, as far as phishing goes, there is no silver bullet. No single solution will provide total protection against healthcare phishing attacks. What is required is layered defenses – technical solutions providing overlapping layers of security – and adherence to tried and tested cybersecurity best practices. Some of the most important anti-phishing measures you can implemented to stop healthcare phishing attacks are detailed below:
Implement an Advanced Spam Filter
A spam filter is one of the most important technical controls to block phishing attacks and prevent malicious emails from reaching the inboxes of your employees. Advanced spam filters use a combination of blacklists of known malicious IPs, email header and content scanning, link analysis, anti-virus scans, sandboxing, SPF, DKIM, and DMARC to detect and block email impersonation attacks, and AI and machine learning to identify zero-day phishing attacks.
You should implement an advanced spam filter and set rules to filter out all suspicious emails and reject malicious messages. Outbound scanning is also important to detect compromised email accounts that are being used to conduct further phishing attacks on your organization and vendors.
Use a Web Filter to Block the Web-Based Component of Phishing Attacks
Email filters are effective, but not infallible. New tactics, techniques, and procedures are commonly developed by threat actors to fool email security solutions. You may be able to block all malware and 99.9% or more of all malicious messages, but some messages are likely to sneak past your defenses.
A web filter provided additional protection by preventing your employees from visiting known malicious URLs that have been masked in phishing emails. Web filters block the web-based component of phishing attacks and malware downloads from the internet and work in tandem with spam filters to improve your security posture and block healthcare phishing attacks.
Implement Multi-Factor Authentication
A SANS Institute report suggests multi-factor authentication will block 99% of attempts by threat actors to use stolen credentials to remotely access email accounts, while Microsoft says MFA will stop more than 99.9% of email account attacks, yet many admins have not implemented multi-factor authentication. A recent survey by CoreView researchers suggests 78% of Microsoft 365 admins have not enabled MFA on their M365 accounts.
In the event of credentials being stolen – in a phishing attack or using brute force tactics – MFA should prevent those credentials from being used to remotely access your accounts.
Provide Regular Security Awareness Training
Technical measures are important for preventing healthcare phishing attacks but don’t forget the human element. Employees need to be trained how to recognize phishing emails and taught the correct response when a suspicious email is received. Security awareness training should also cover cybersecurity best practices.
To create a “security aware” culture in your organization, you need to provide regular security awareness training sessions, including an annual training session for all staff and more frequent shorter sessions or online CBT sessions throughout the year, making sure you keep the workforce aware of the latest threats. Not only will training help to prevent healthcare phishing attacks from succeeding, it is also a requirement for HIPAA compliance.
Conduct Phishing Simulation Exercises
Training is important, but so is testing. If you do not test your employees’ security knowledge, you will not know whether your training has been successful. There will always be employees that require more training than others, and through testing you will be able to identify the individuals that need more help.
Phishing simulation exercises are the best way to achieve this. You can find weak links in your workforce as well as your training program and ensure they are addressed.
Take Care with the Information You Make Available Online
In order to conduct a targeted phishing attacks on your organization, an attacker needs to know your email addresses. This information can often easily be found online in organizational charts and staff directories. Limiting the information you publish online will make it harder for email addresses to be harvested and used in attacks on your organization.
How to Reduce the Severity of Successful Healthcare Phishing Attacks
Healthcare phishing attacks are extremely common and often result in the exposure or theft of large amounts of protected health information. The Office for Civil Rights breach portal lists many email security breaches that have exposed the personal and health information of tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of patients and health plan members.
When conducting a risk analysis, consider what would happen in the event of a breach and take steps to reduce the severity of a breach should your defenses be penetrated. It is a good best practice to implement an email archiving solution to send all emails to a secure, cloud archive to ensure that no email data is lost and to implement policies requiring emails containing PHI to be deleted from your mail system. In the event of a breach, the PHI exposed will be greatly reduced and so too will the breach costs.
By using an email archive, you will still be able to remain compliant and retain al email data, but you will be able to significantly reduce risk while improving the performance of your mail server.