In our previous post, we examined the risks posed by ransomware attacks on healthcare organizations and why healthcare is different from other industries.  Because the healthcare ecosystem is so complex–encompassing everything from HIPAA-compliant management of patient records to network integration of life-supporting medical devices–it is a uniquely vulnerable target for ransomware attacks that are potentially lucrative for criminals. These ransomware attacks are especially important to combat, because they potentially threaten public health and risk patient lives. The augmented expenses incurred in safeguarding against these attacks are rationalized by the tangible benefits accrued to patients.

Ransomware attacks can be devastating, and recent attacks show why a solid ransomware strategy is so important. For example, a 2023 attack on a single medical group led to outages at healthcare facilities in several states which shut down emergency rooms and required ambulances to divert to other hospitals. 

Planning to prevent and mitigate ransomware attacks is not just about data protection, but about protecting patients and protecting the public from catastrophic outcomes. The onus is not just on information security professionals but also on every individual in the healthcare domain. It’s imperative that organizations not only adhere to compliance measures but also surpass their obligations by prioritizing security and patient well-being.

In this discussion, we will take a closer look at the strategies employed by industry experts to defend against the growing threat of ransomware attacks and recover from those threats. The focal points of these strategies center around the key themes of people, processes, and technology.


Training and Awareness

One of the most critical steps to protecting against cyberattacks is to educate and train all staff members, vendors, and contractors about the dangers of ransomware. They are the first line of defense and should be well-versed in identifying suspicious emails, links, and attachments. 

As we discussed in our previous post, the healthcare sector, particularly clinical staff, requires heightened user education and outreach to address ransomware risks effectively. Given the landscape of digital health practices, caregivers engage with external patients, rendering them more vulnerable to phishing attacks. It’s important to invest in continuous education through awareness workshops, and training. This approach can aid employees in cultivating a security-conscious mindset and, in turn, make more informed decisions to avoid falling victim to phishing attacks.

Incident Response Teams

Another important thing organizations can do to prevent ransomware attacks and mitigate damage is to staff and maintain dedicated incident response teams composed of individuals with the expertise to handle security incidents effectively. Establish a Security Operations Center (SOC) and/or Security Incident and Event Management (SIEM) team around the clock. These teams should have well-defined roles and responsibilities and be well-prepared to respond to ransomware attacks swiftly. SOCs may cost over a million dollars a year to staff and operate, but they remain the most useful frontline tool for fighting ransomware attacks.

Cultural Shift and Employee Engagement

Fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness and vigilance can encourage employees to report potential threats as soon as they occur. The leadership team should instill a sense of responsibility among all employees by highlighting the sensitive details and the governing regulations around PPI and PHI data to prioritize security in their daily activities and to report any potential security risks promptly. This can help in early threat detection and containment.

Everyone plays a vital Role

While it’s important for leadership to take charge in cultivating the right culture, preventing and minimizing ransomware attacks should be a team effort across the organization. Vulnerability assessment teams assist in identifying potential weak points in architecture and improving scanning, while infrastructure teams assist with patching remediation and coordinating software updates. Penetration testing teams can identify security weaknesses at the same time that disaster recovery and business continuity teams can make sure servers and systems keep running in case of cyberattacks.


Patch Management

Proactively and consistently check on the effectiveness of your systems, ensuring that the software is up-to-date, patched, and strong enough to rectify any vulnerabilities that ransomware could exploit. Streamline this process and reduce vulnerabilities through a formal patch management program and have a process in place to handle zero day vulnerabilities. 


Employ network segmentation to partition the network into isolated sections into application groups or segments that are only communicating to other systems within the segment. This inhibits the proliferation of ransomware across the network by impeding lateral movement. Make sure firewalls are set up between production and QA environments and only allow systems to communicate with systems that need to communicate.

Need and Role-based Access

Zero Trust Network strategy and principles should be applied. Multi-factor authentication should also be implemented as per industry best practices. Need-based access policy must be adopted—implementing the principle of least privilege restricts users’ access to only the resources necessary for their roles, reducing the potential attack surface.

Backups and Recovery Plans

Develop and sustain a robust backup strategy encompassing vital data and systems. Protect these backups by storing them offline or within isolated networks to preclude ransomware compromise. Establish a process to regularly test the reliability of backups.

Incident Response Plan 

Define and build a well-documented incident response plan detailing actions in the event of a ransomware attack. This plan should encompass notification protocols, designated roles, communication procedures, and steps for reinstating systems using backups.

Vendor Accountability

Medical devices often operate on outdated hardware and software systems, so continuously updating and reviewing cybersecurity protocols and policies is paramount. It’s crucial to actively engage with vendors to ensure the provision of security patches. Implement firewall rules, and segment devices to reduce vulnerability and minimize attack surface. Establish processes with vendors and make them accountable for making sure security updates are in place for the critical systems. These processes are pivotal in empowering people to enhance their efforts in fortifying Ransomware Defense and Recovery practices.


Endpoint Security and Device Management

Deploying robust endpoint security solutions including antivirus software, intrusion detection systems, and behavior monitoring tools can help identify and prevent ransomware attacks before they can cause significant damage. While various tools and software solutions are available, it’s crucial to ensure their seamless integration with existing infrastructure and alignment with essential cybersecurity practices and policies. Strive to uphold a balanced approach, steering clear of excessive software proliferation, which could strain resources required for integration, maintenance, and support.

Email Security and URL Filtering

Deploy robust email security solutions to filter out phishing emails and malicious attachments before they reach user’s inboxes. Use secure mail and encryption for critical email communication to protect and be intercepted by cybercriminals. Incorporating advanced threat protection can effectively detect and halt emails containing ransomware payloads. Apply spam filters that filter unwanted email like bulk and spam messages and allow users to flag and report suspicious mail. Deploy URL filtering tools to ensure users only access safe and secure websites.

Network Monitoring 

Use network monitoring tools to identify uncommon activities and anomalies that might signal a ransomware attack. Intrusion detection systems and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) platforms can play a pivotal role in detecting potential threats. Monitor web traffic and inspect potential security risks. 

Network Segmentation

Implement technology to partition the network into distinct zones, each with restricted communication paths, effectively curbing the lateral movement of attackers. This prevents ransomware from spreading across the entire network.

Advanced Threat Detection

Implementing advanced threat detection solutions that use machine learning and AI to identify anomalous behavior and patterns can help detect and mitigate ransomware attacks in real time.


Deploy storage solutions that have the capability to encrypt sensitive data both at rest and in transit. Encryption adds an extra layer of protection against unauthorized access, even if attackers manage to infiltrate the network. 

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Deploying authentication solutions enforcing MFA for accessing critical systems and applications adds an additional layer of security, making it harder for attackers to gain unauthorized access.

Protect Backups

A ransomware attack can encrypt backups preventing a recovery. Malicious code can be replicated or backed up which can cause delay in recovery or loss of data. Choose backup solutions that can effectively protect backups by keeping them air-gapped and immutable. 

Recovery Environment

Organizations should build and actively maintain an isolated recovery environment (IRE), which periodically bridges the air-gap for necessary system updates. This setup can be readily accessed in critical situations to expedite recovery efforts. Deploy recovery solutions that will aid in creating and maintaining an IRE.

Ransomware-Specific Tools 

Some security solutions are designed to specifically combat ransomware. These tools may include behavior analysis, file recovery mechanisms, and decryption capabilities. These tools also help with minimal Recovery Time Objective (RTO) by providing quicker access to Restore points.

Technology serves as a pivotal pillar in supporting the people and process in the battle against ransomware. VMware VCDR and Ransomware Recovery as a Service is one leading solution that provides comprehensive capabilities to both protect and recover from ransomware attacks. 

Stay tuned for the final blog post in this series where we will delve into the best practices for mitigating ransomware risks.

The post Ransomware Attacks: What the Healthcare Industry Can Do appeared first on VMware Industry Solutions.

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