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Cyberattack forces hospital turn ambulances away

The seriousness of the cyberattack led to Eskenazi Health turning ambulances away and diverting patients to other hospitals.

The primary role of a paramedic is to stabilize people with life-threatening injuries and transport these patients to a higher level of care. — File image by David Shankbone (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The primary role of a paramedic is to stabilize people with life-threatening injuries and transport these patients to a higher level of care. — File image by David Shankbone (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Eskenazi Health, a healthcare service provider that operates a 315-bed hospital, inpatient facilities, and community health centers throughout Indianapolis, U.S., was hit by a ransomware attack during August 2021.

The seriousness of the cyberattack led to Eskenazi Health turning ambulances away and diverting patients to other hospitals as a result of the ransomware incident, for a period of time.

However, the health authority has said that no employee or patient data had been compromised.

In terms of the recovery strategy, the hospital prioritized getting the patient care system up first. However, the hospital had to cancel some elective procedures in order to handle needs, assessing factors such as the urgency and complexity of the procedure.

The attack is also a sign of how healthcare organizations as in the targets of cyber-criminals. Over the past two years, healthcare has become an increasingly frequent target for cyberattacks. Given the criticality of healthcare, each attack can be highly disruptive.

Commenting on the incident for Digital Journal is Gary Ogasawara, CTO, Cloudian. Ogasawara says that the incident shows just how destructive this form of cybersecurity incident can be, noting: “The Eskenazi Health attack demonstrates the threat ransomware poses beyond just day-to-day business disruptions.”

Ogasawara adds that this type of attack puts a significant strain on an already hampered healthcare sector: “Organizations responsible for protecting patient lives do not have the time to worry about cyberthreats that could take down their entire system.”

The attack also shows how new approaches are required to prevent these types of attacks from occurring in the future. According to Ogasawara: “Despite ample effort by the healthcare industry to defend against these threats, this event illustrates the reality that traditional defenses such as perimeter security solutions inevitably fall short against increasingly sophisticated ransomware attacks.”

As to what is needed, Ogasawara recommends: “To truly safeguard themselves, organizations must instead protect data at the storage layer. The best way to do so is to keep a backup data copy on immutable storage. This protects data from ransomware by making it unchangeable for a specified period, thus preventing encryption by malware and enabling easy recovery of an uninfected data copy in the event of an attack.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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