A Proactive Ransomware Mitigation Strategy for Electronic Health Records

Ransomware is distributed as a social engineering ploy via email, malicious links and malvertizing, among other techniques. A proactive ransomware mitigation strategy is needed as once a user falls prey to these human exploits, ransomware is downloaded to the victim’s computer to begin the malicious process.  The virus attempts to connect with encryption-key servers, takes hold of public encryption keys and uses various encryption algorithms to encrypt mission-critical data on the network.

This data typically includes file formats of PDF, JPG, and Microsoft Office extensions. Basic OS recovery and reboot systems are disabled. The compromised data is moved, renamed, encrypted, and renamed again to ensure the required data cannot be queried using actual file names when ransomware is executed, which is when ransom is demanded via Bitcoin or other digital money transfer services. At execution, the start-up screen and several basic features are also locked until this payment is processed.

A Proactive Ransomware Mitigation Strategy

Despite the prevalent security awareness, phishing schemes and drive-by-downloads remain one of the most effective techniques to deliver ransomware payloads onto target computers. To combat ransomware, a proactive ransomware mitigation strategy is to set up systematic corporate security training programs to prevent ransomware payload delivery onto your EHR systems in the first place.

Employ expert social pen-testers to phish your own staff. Emulate real-world exploits but do no ream harm to your organization or employees. Establish gamification-based rewarding programs to encourage dedicated adoption of security best practices. And yes, prior executive approval will be required to prevent awkward situations.

Secondly, it’s best to perform social penetration testing procedures on a separate, isolated network infrastructure such that sensitive data remains inaccessible and uncompromised. This strategy will essentially build the most effective line of defense against ransomware: the human firewall.

Advanced phishing attacks are known to bypass standard spam filtering standards set up by email clients. Another part of a proactive ransomware mitigation strategy is to establish strong spam filtering techniques such as blacklisting and whitelisting email and IP addresses, and real-time blackhole lists that are maintained by third-party security providers. Use content-based filters to ward off malicious content that’s most relevant to your organization.

Email validation systems such as Sender Policy Framework (SPF), Domain Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance (DMARC), and Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) can prevent phishing emails from reaching your workforce. Establish strong administrative and access controls to prevent unauthorized and unintended downloads of executable files via email or the Web – even legitimate website could be compromised to deliver ransomware as downloadable content.

Strict controls that allow the absolute least user privileges to appropriate users will reduce the proportion of workforce who can inadvertently facilitate ransomware delivery to the corporate IT network. This approach will prevent anomalous and unauthorized downloads, installations, data transfer, editing and encryption from taking place.

proactive ransomware mitigation strategyFurthermore, streamline the updating, patching and validation processes for every tool used in the EHR systems. Most of the ransomware attacks exploit known vulnerabilities that remain unpatched. Standardizing mass rollout of updates across all systems is a time-consuming and cumbersome process if the operating systems and software are installed on local hard drives.

Organizations that maintain such systems take months and sometimes years before evaluating, authorizing and installing updates individually on each computer. On the other hand, organizations that maintain virtualized and cloud-based environments for the delivery of desktop OS and electronic heath records solutions can automate and streamline the process of software updates.

Although these measures drastically reduce the chances of successful malware delivery to your systems, your organization should be prepared to tackle the threat of ransomware infection and prevent execution of malicious programs. For instance, another proactive ransomware mitigation strategy is to limit user privileges and controls to install software against targeted file extensions.

If an installation is critical, the process should be flagged and transferred to a sandbox environment for detailed security assessment. Unauthorized changes to medical devices, files and data sharing should be blocked to prevent potential ransomware processes from executing.

Proactive Ransomware Mitigation Strategy with Advanced Security

Deploy advanced security solutions that would detect anomalous processes, raise the alarm and cut-off compromised systems from the network to prevent the malware from spreading. Maintain an efficient backup recovery system that performs data backup in real-time and can be used to retrieve mission-critical data in a matter of minutes, as required. Consider using differential backup techniques that preserve the only the new changes performed to data that’s already backed up.

The minds behind ransomware attacks intend to hold this data to hostage so that victims are left with no option but to process the payments. If you can access this data using alternate means within acceptable schedule, the ransomware attack is rendered useless and you can eventually get security and IT experts to clean up the infected systems.

Finally, a sound proactive ransomware mitigation strategy is to coordinate with your security solutions providers and federal agencies to report possible ransomware attacks – they may already have relevant information and could be able to crack down on the perpetrators with the additional reporting, thereby preventing future attacks from the same sources.

Craig Hufford

Craig Hufford

Managing Partner
Executive Search Consultant - Power Systems, Aerospace, IFE, Medical Devices...
Craig Hufford

@nextgencraig

Retained executive search recruiter for aerospace & defense, airborne power, cyber security, medical devices. Linkedin http://t.co/kjw6L4Cp and Facebook
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Craig Hufford