'Swatting' Becomes Latest Extortion Tactic in Ransomware Attacks

Cybercriminals are now using “swatting” to pressure hospitals into paying ransom demands by targeting their patients. Swatting involves making false police reports and prompting armed responses to victims’ homes. These criminals aim to coerce hospitals into paying by threatening patients, like in the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center case, cybercriminals stole medical records and threatened to use swatting tactics on patients if their ransom demands weren’t met. The center immediately informed the FBI and local police, who investigated both the cyber attack and the threats against patients.

At Integris Health, there was a breach where patient data might have been accessed. Threat actors then started sending emails to patients, warning of selling their personal information unless certain demands were fulfilled. This alarming development posed a serious threat to the privacy and confidentiality of the patients’ sensitive data. The situation raised concerns with the institution regarding the potential exploitation of patient information, necessitating an urgent response to protect patient privacy.

Security Officer Comments:
These distressing incidents highlight the growing trend of cyber threats targeting medical institutions and their patients. These threats serve as a stark reminder of the escalating tactics adopted by cybercriminals, posing significant challenges to healthcare cybersecurity.

Suggested Corrections:
Backup your data, system images, and configurations, regularly test them, and keep the backups offline: Ensure that backups are regularly tested and that they are not connected to the business network, as many ransomware variants try to find and encrypt or delete accessible backups. Maintaining current backups offline is critical because if your network data is encrypted with ransomware, your organization can restore systems.

Update and patch systems promptly: This includes maintaining the security of operating systems, applications, and firmware in a timely manner. Consider using a centralized patch management system; use a risk- based assessment strategy to drive your patch management program.

Test your incident response plan: There's nothing that shows the gaps in plans more than testing them. Run through some core questions and use those to build an incident response plan: Are you able to sustain business operations without access to certain systems? For how long? Would you turn off your manufacturing operations if business systems such as billing were offline?

Check Your Security Team's Work: Use a 3rd party pen tester to test the security of your systems and your ability to defend against a sophisticated attack. Many ransomware criminals are aggressive and sophisticated and will find the equivalent of unlocked doors.

Segment your networks: There's been a recent shift in ransomware attacks – from stealing data to disrupting operations. It's critically important that your corporate business functions and manufacturing/production operations are separated and that you carefully filter and limit internet access to operational networks, identify links between these networks and develop workarounds or manual controls to ensure ICS networks can be isolated and continue operating if your corporate network is compromised. Regularly test contingency plans such as manual controls so that safety critical functions can be maintained during a cyber incident.

Train employees: Email remains the most vulnerable attack vector for organizations. Users should be trained how to avoid and spot phishing emails. Multi Factor authentication can help prevent malicious access to sensitive services.