The Biggest Cybersecurity Challenges of Australia’s Healthcare System

In 2019, some hospitals in Victoria under the South West Alliance of Rural Health and Gippsland Health Alliance couldn’t access their regional network because of a ransomware attack. Because of it, these healthcare facilities needed to delay the majority of their services except for emergency care.

But this is not an isolated case. By 2020, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) already expressed grave concern over the increased cyberattacks targeting the healthcare sector. It is particularly vulnerable to:

  • SDBBot, a type of remote access tool (RAT) that, once installed, allows cybercriminals to infiltrate the system and its networks
  • C10p, a ransomware that may infect alongside SDBBot and renders files and systems inaccessible until the targets pay a particular amount

No country can function without healthcare, but what happens when its tech is under constant attack by cybercriminals? What makes hospitals vulnerable to these problems?

Why Cybercriminals Love Healthcare Facilities

In many cases, a cyberattack is a matter of opportunity than anything else. For the perpetrators, healthcare facilities provide lots of it:

1. Obsolete IT System

In 2017, the NHS dealt with a massive ransomware attack that shut down over 15 hospitals. One of the primary reasons it spread was its obsolete operating system. Many of the facilities still used Windows XP released nearly 20 years ago.

Microsoft already ended its support in 2014, which means units that still run it no longer receives security patches that could have prevented these attacks.

Using outdated or legacy systems make it more convenient for hackers to penetrate the system, but that’s not the only problem it seems. According to Hospital and Healthcare, hospitals are also struggling to be ahead of these attackers.

2. Lax Cybersecurity Practices

The Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA) noted a marked improvement in cybersecurity among rural and metropolitan hospitals. Over 60% performed daily backups, while 95% were aware they have a responsibility to protect patient data. Many are also working with cybersecurity companies for various solutions, such as penetration testing.

However, some practices can still put all these efforts to waste. In 2018, insiders in My Health Record revealed that the universal patient database was susceptible to a data breach as workers still shared login credentials. Some of these logins were active for weeks.

cyber security on a laptop

The Consequences

There’s no better time for hospitals to strengthen their cybersecurity measures than today because the consequences can be dire:

1. Patient Data Access

One of the biggest effects of a cyberattack is the deliberate illegal access to patient data. Cybercriminals have free rein on them once they can get into the system. They may change the information or delete them completely. They may also hold these records hostage. Some may sell them in the black market.

In turn, patients are now at risk of identity theft. They may experience delays in their treatment or diagnosis as healthcare providers need to rebuild their information.

2. Loss of Trust

Whether a cyberattack like a data breach can affect a firm’s reputation is still a subject of debate. One thing is clear: it can lead to a loss of trust and reputation.

Healthcare facilities cannot afford patients and even doctors to lose it. Otherwise, patients may no longer provide their data or give false information that can result in medical errors. Doctors may not update patient records or leave out critical data from the system.

Either way, the lack of trust will prevent hospitals from providing quality care to their patients, while patients will not be satisfied with the service.

The number of illegal cyber activities has been increasing over the years as criminals become more nefarious, aggressive, and tech-savvy. A security breach or a cyberattack is no longer a matter of if but when. As one of the foundations of any country, the healthcare sector needs to be prepared for it.

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