In today’s digital age, cyber crimes are rapidly mountaineering every day. Amongst every other cybercrime, we have acquainted ourselves with, ransomware attack seems to be a unique and chaotic form of technique in this modern world.
So, what is a ransomware attack?
Understanding a ransomware attack
What is it?
First, let’s begin with ransomware. Ransomware is a form of malware that attacks any work by gaining access to your device and encrypting all the information stored in it. Ransomware is another malicious software used by cybercriminals to access other’s computers and disrupt them.
When I first read about it during my studies, I was quite amazed at how one Ransomware attack turned disastrous for many companies while a boon for criminals.
What happens during the Ransomware attack?
Identify vulnerable information systems
The first action the attackers also called threat actors do is identify vulnerable information systems in the company. They always pick their target with months of planning and discretion. Most of their targets are large companies with lots of financial prospects. However, it is observed that health care companies fall prey more as they are more sensitive regarding knowledge management.
Take access/ control of the device/ network
The second step they do is, to take access to the device. And these threat actors do it- by sending spam emails or attachments luring people to click on them. They do it by phishing spam which instigates companies to click on it. This happens both intentionally and unintentionally as well. The victim when clicking or downloading such malicious content, allows attackers to gain access to the most important asset of the company – the knowledge they hold.
Demanding a ransom
The final step and probably the most important step these threat actors take is- demanding a ransom from the victims in exchange for freeing up their information back to them. This is what these attackers do and they indeed are earning millions by doing this.
Referring to the Annual Cyber Intelligence report, 1,097 organizations were hit by ransomware attacks in the first half of 2021. In contrast, the 2020 report found 1,112 ransomware attacks for the entire year.
In most cases, victims end up paying hefty amounts to the attackers in hope that they may get their files back. However, many folders from the hacked system permanently get deleted or are very hard to restore back. Thus, a ransomware attack is a terribly horrific cybercrime any person or organisation can experience.
Preventing ransomware attacks
Now, let’s get to the solutions.
How can anyone prevent such an attack in the first place?
Remember, we need to prioritise our knowledge storage system as a human body. As the human body is able to get infected with many viruses, we always take preventive measures to save ourselves from dangerous diseases.
Likewise, knowledge storage, in simple terms, is a storage device or technique where all the knowledge of the organisations is stored. This storage or acquisition device has to be secured just like we would take care of our bodies every day. In order to get our storage safe, the most essential technique is not to click on any links that are deemed to be unsafe.
We need to remember that such ransomware are infection and one (person or the organisation) can install an anti-ransomware that blocks all the malicious contents sent by the threat actors.
The use of potential adblocking software such as Raspberry pie-hole can also help block unwanted ads that limit the probability of such ransomware incidents.
Ransomware in the healthcare industry
What is happening?
We are indeed witnessing the raging number of cyberattacks in the healthcare industry as well. As this attack occurs through spam, emails or websites attempting to penetrate and infect the network, the health sector falls victim many times.
According to Healthcare IT News (2021), 446 data breaches were observed in significant industries including the health sector where phishing and ransomware were more evident.
Impact of ransomware on healthcare
In my opinion, the healthcare industry is a very sensitive sector in comparison to other industries. Especially since the pandemic, the way the health industry has been trying to cope with the raging war of coronavirus is commendable.
In the era where the most critical infrastructure is fighting against emerging covid, workforce and resource shortages, cybercriminals find this industry relatively easy to target.
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We may think how can data invasion impact the healthcare system in any way? However, the impact is very intense than we can imagine.
I am going to give an example of an imaginary healthcare company by naming it “L”. L is a healthcare company providing a range of services across an imaginary country named Xerox. Now, with the covid and all the conditions, L has been ransomwared by some troop of threat actors. First, these attackers selected L because they thought it is easy to get into their system amidst the pandemic. Secondly, L is a giant health conglomerate and has about 200 branches across the country. Therefore, attacking L is going to be financially rewarding for those threat actors.
Therefore, they invade the knowledge storage and acquire all those data. Now let’s talk about the impacts of such cybercrime on stakeholders of L. I am going to explain it in terms of People, Process and Technology which is a top-tier model of impact in Knowledge Management.
Both employees and consumers of L have had their fair share of grief due to this attack. Why is that? It is because, in 99% of cases, the IT system shuts down the moment it is invaded. For how long? This we may not know. Therefore, L does the same. L shuts off the system and transitions itself from digital to paper records. This is a huge effect any company in the 21st century can imagine.
For employees, administrators are going to fall sick (mentally) due to loads of paperwork mounting on the top and extra hours they have to stay at work to complete their duties. Clients, may not be able to see their patient records or any processes. If L is a company that counsels for aged care or disability packages (in-home support or residential facility) this will not help clients to get into care quickly due to the system shut down.
Patients who are waiting for surgery in any hospital through L are going to take longer than usual and this will be hazardous in many cases, unfortunately!
Unfortunately, L will also be unable to pay the workforce on time if L decided to pay the ransom which is a large sum of amount!
This will also lead worker unions to barge into L if underpaying continues! What a nightmare.
L’s working processes get severely disrupted due to such events. This malware is going to leave L with deleted patient and employee files. The paper-based documentation is going to be hectic adding more effort and time. This will lead to misdirection in payroll systems.
Internal IT systems of L will be impacted in any way. As the knowledge storage device is infected, L will need to focus on sound data management and data backups will also be needed.
This definitely sounds like a nightmare. Doesn’t it? In my opinion, today’s age is no lesser than a pandemic of technology. We constantly have to be aware of our information systems and ways to secure our greatest wealth of this era – knowledge!
So let’s peek into solutions. Shall we?
Staying away, staying safe
- The first thing we need to understand is – prior knowledge about such data breaches. But how can we have prior knowledge about it? We can learn from every incident that we have heard or seen. Thus, training is absolutely necessary. Training self and employees (if you have a company like L) will be highly beneficial about types of data invasions and cyber security.
- Sound data backups are needed.
Anti-virus and anti-malware software will help block any form of unnecessary websites or ads that can be phishing in many cases.
- Awareness awareness awareness!
I know I have been emphasising this too much but we have to be aware. We don’t have to be an IT professionals to learn these. We can take a short course on data management systems or even knowledge management! This will help us understand the importance of data security and the different ways hackers use to get into the system.
So, I have jotted down all the information I have learned. I really believe that if we are a little aware, we will be able to win this digital pandemic in our way and it’s going to be a “win-lose” bargain where we will win and threat actors will lose!