Ascension, one of the largest private healthcare systems in the United States, fell victim to a ransomware attack on May 8, 2024, that forced systems offline, including patients’ medical records which were not fully restored for a month. The attack caused massive disruption, and without access to electronic health records, staff were forced to record patient information manually.

Patient care was seriously affected, with delays in diagnosis and treatment, and the lack of access to medical records resulted in medical errors. Without technology to perform routine safety checks, patient safety was put at risk. The investigation into the attack is still ongoing, but evidence has already been found that files containing sensitive data were stolen in the attack. The scale of the data breach has yet to be determined but for a healthcare system as large as Ascension, the breach could be considerable.

The ransomware attack occurred as a result of a simple error by a single employee, who was tricked into downloading a malicious file from the internet. That file provided the attackers with a foothold in the network, from where they were able to launch a devastating ransomware attack. Ascension said it has no reason to believe that the file download was a malicious act and is satisfied that it was an honest mistake by the employee. Sadly, it is the type of mistake that frequently results in ransomware attacks and costly data breaches.

Ascension has not disclosed how the file was downloaded, whether it was from general web browsing, malvertising that directed the employee to a malicious website, or if they clicked a link in a phishing email. Regardless of how the employee arrived at the malicious site, the attack could have been prevented with the right technology in place. It is possible to protect against all of the above-mentioned methods of malware delivery with a web filter. WebTitan from TitanHQ is a DNS-based web filter for businesses to prevent employees from visiting websites hosting malware and to block the web-based component of phishing attacks.

WebTitan is fed threat intelligence to provide real-time protection against malicious websites. As soon as a malicious website is detected, it is added to the database and all WebTitan users are prevented from visiting that URL. WebTitan categorizes and blocks around 60,000 malware and spyware domains each day and if an attempt is made to visit one of those URLs, whether it is via a link in an email, malvertising, or general web browsing, the attempt is blocked and the user is directed to a locally hosted block page.

WebTitan is updated constantly with vast click stream traffic from actively visited URLs from 500 million end users, and the data is used to categorize websites. WebTitan users can then place restrictions on 53 categories of websites that employees can visit on their work devices, eliminating risks from common sources of malware such as torrent and file-sharing sites for which there is no business reason for access. Further, as an additional protection against malware, WebTitan can be configured to block downloads of certain file types from the internet, such as executable files that are commonly used to deliver malware. For the majority of employees, there is rarely a business need to download executable files.

Malware is commonly delivered via email, either via attachments containing malicious scripts and macros or via embedded hyperlinks. It is important to have an advanced email security solution in place to block this method of malware delivery. SpamTitan is a cloud-based anti-spam service that protects against known malware using twin antivirus engines that scan attachments for the signatures of malware. To protect against novel malware threats, SpamTitan incorporates a Bitdefender-powered email sandbox, where suspicious messages are sent for deep inspection. An email sandbox is key to blocking malware threats and essential due to the volume of novel malware variants now being distributed.

While technological solutions are essential, it is also important to provide security awareness training to the workforce to improve awareness of cyber threats and teach security best practices. This is another area where TitanHQ can help. SafeTitan is a comprehensive security awareness training platform and phishing simulator that is proven to reduce susceptibility to phishing attacks that helps businesses develop a human firewall and combat the many threats that target employees.

For more information on improving your defenses against malware and phishing threats, give the TitanHQ team a call. All TitanHQ cybersecurity solutions are also available on a free trial to allow you to put them to the test before making a purchase decision.