Why Do Hospitals Keep Falling for Email Hacks? A Few Reasons...
Hospitals are often in the news due to data breaches, and email hacks are often the cause.
- By Kayla Matthews
- Apr 19, 2019
Hospitals are often in the news due to data breaches, and email hacks are often the cause. Investigations of the matters frequently find unauthorized parties were able to gain access to email accounts at health care facilities, and everything started when an employee clicked on a phishing email and gave the information it requested. Why does this happen?
1. Hospitals Don't Have Adequate Security Budgets
Most people who have even a bare-bones familiarity with phishing emails know one of the reasons they work is that the messages look so realistic. One recent study wanted to see what percentage of people at health care facilities would interact with simulated phishing emails. The study involved six health organizations and more than 2.9 million emails.
An analyzed sample of the results showed workers clicked on phishing emails one out of every seven times. However, the findings also revealed the click rates went down when people received ongoing exposure to campaigns that helped them recognize and avoid phishing emails.
Training is an excellent way to help people stay aware of phishing and its dangers. Moreover, tools can screen for suspicious emails and stop them from reaching employees' inboxes. But, both those things cost money, and health care facilities aren't putting enough toward cybersecurity.
Research compiled by Symantec shows the cybersecurity budgets at health care organizations are far smaller than they should be. More specifically, the statistics show 74 percent of providers in the health industry devote 6 percent or less of their budgets to IT security.
It's widely known health care organizations lag when beefing up cybersecurity. For example, at a hospital where a phishing attack may have compromised the data of more than 60,000 people, the organization started using multi-factor authentication afterward, but that's arguably an essential step that should have happened earlier.
2. Hackers Prey on Urgency and Use Personalization
Today's cybercriminals who use phishing as their attack type of choice know all the most successful tricks to use to make people fall victim to the scams. That often means emphasizing urgency. Hospital workers know life-and-death situations well, and they understand inefficiency can have dire consequences. So, necessity is an aspect that can push health care workers to act.
It's also common for phishing emails to have personalized elements, such as including a person's name or having content related to a person's industry. If an employee at a medical facility received a phishing email about medical insurance, an upcoming health conference or a supposed login issue at a medical site that requires a person to confirm their password, they'd likely click on it after assuming it is pertinent to their job responsibilities.
Hackers typically don't mind putting in the extra effort to include details that convey urgency or seem personalized for the recipient. That's because there's so much at stake. Health care providers and associated brands around the world have to prepare for an extra 2.5 trillion bytes of data daily, including figuring out how to protect that information.
The tremendous amount of data hospitals handle frequently features information that is exceptionally valuable to hackers, such as Social Security numbers, complete addresses and credit card numbers. The substantial payoff associated with a successful phishing attempt gives cybercriminals plenty of reasons to research what matters most to health workers and craft their messages accordingly, encouraging people to click.
3. Phishing Emails Come in Many Forms
As mentioned in the previous section, hackers like to capitalize on urgency and personalize messages when possible. However, predicting the elements of a phishing email is not as straightforward as some people think.
A 2018 paper from Cofense took an in-depth look at the phishing problem in the health care sector. It found many of the phishing emails that get results most often are those appearing entirely innocent and generic. For example, people were most likely to click phishing emails that requested invoices, followed by those about manager evaluations and messages about package deliveries.
Also, the phishing emails examined in the study either asked people to enter data or click on links. Some of the emails in the latter category were extremely simple, containing content such as "Thank you for your business. Please find your invoice at this link."
A person who works at a medical facility and regularly receives invoices likely wouldn't suspect anything odd after seeing such a brief message. They'd appreciate that it's to the point and doesn't require too much of their time.
The problem is that although some red flags identify phishing emails, such as lots of spelling and grammar mistakes and requests to enter one's password, cybercriminals change their methods frequently and know it's sometimes best to focus on simplicity. As such, even employees who know most of the telltale signs of phishing emails may still become victims.
A Care-Centric Industry
The medical sector puts patient care at the forefront. Many of the people working in it see cybersecurity as less critical, especially if associated training takes away from time spent with patients.
But, phishing attacks can be severe enough to shut down entire hospitals. With that in mind, hospitals should view phishing prevention as something that ties into caring for those in need.