Let me ask you a question… let’s say that you’re about one year from your projected retirement, when a ransomware attack encrypts all of your files. What do you do? Pack it in and retire early? This is precisely the situation that the practitioners of Brookside ENT & Hearing Services of Battle Creek, Michigan, have found themselves in – and it may not be over yet.
What Happened to Brookside ENT?
Typical of a ransomware attack, the malware began by deleting and overwriting all of the practice’s data – every medical record, bill, and upcoming appointment. A duplicate of each file was left behind, locked behind a password that the person or persons responsible promised to provide in exchange for a $6,500 wire transfer.
Under the advisement of an “IT guy,” Dr. William Scalf and Michigan state senator Dr. John Bizon didn’t pay the ransom, as they couldn’t be sure that the password would even work, or that the ransomware wouldn’t return in the near future. As their IT resource determined that the attacker hadn’t actually viewed any of the records, this event technically didn’t need to be reported as a breach under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Nevertheless, without access to this data, the physicians saw little choice than to retire early.
Well, kind of. As they had no means of knowing who had an appointment scheduled, the physicians had little choice than to wait around the office for a few weeks and see whomever showed up.
Why Throwing in the Towel May Not Be Enough
From a purely academic point of view, it only makes sense that the medical industry would be one targeted by ransomware. Not only do its establishments rely greatly on the data they have stored, there is an urgency to this reliance that cannot be denied. Think about the possible ramifications if a medical practitioner was unable to properly diagnose a patient and recommend treatment because of some unavailable data.
Of course, the strategy that Brookside ENT has adopted to close up shop doesn’t leave its owners off the hook, either. They could still find themselves in plenty of regulatory hot water.
For instance, a ransomware attack (paid or not) could be considered a reportable incident under HIPAA, or even an instigation of a negligence-based legal action. Any patient could invoke HIPAA rules if their data was in digital form and have an investigation started by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, simply by leaving a complaint.
How You Can Protect Your Business from Ransomware
While the best way to keep your business safe is to be able to spot ransomware infection attempts before they successfully fool you into allowing them on your system, statistically, you aren’t going to be able to spot all of them… so what can you do?
One great resource you have available to you is your team. Each uneducated user offers ransomware another way in, but each educated user is another shield to help protect your business.
You should also develop and maintain a comprehensive backup plan to help protect your data from ransomware attacks and other attempts against it. While it would be ideal to not need to use this backup, it would be far less ideal to need one and not have it. Make sure that you keep your backup isolated from the rest of your network as well, so that your backup isn’t also encrypted by a ransomware attack.