By Dana Jacoby

Globally, cyber attacks are on the rise, with a 20% increase in data breaches observed from 2022 to 2023. The healthcare industry is increasingly becoming a target of these cyber attacks, with incidents rising both in frequency and severity.

In February and April of 2024, Change Healthcare fell victim to two major cyberattacks, the most significant the industry has ever seen. Cyber attacks like this not only jeopardize patient privacy and data security but also pose a substantial risk to patient care delivery.

Here we look at the negative impact of a cyber attack in healthcare, and discuss the events surrounding the two Change Healthcare breaches to understand what the industry can learn from it.

The impact of healthcare cyber attacks

Cyber attacks can involve a range of malicious activities, including ransomware, data theft, and denial of service attacks.

In 2021, 3.350 million healthcare records were exposed across 674 healthcare big data breaches. These incidents pose significant risks to patient data, often leading to unauthorized access and potential misuse of sensitive information.

They can also disrupt medical services, leading to delays or cancellations of medical procedures and compromising patient care, with potential impacts on the ability to access patient records, use online prescription services, and more, depending on the type of breach​.

Financial losses are another critical concern, with the average cost of a healthcare data breach reaching approximately $10.93 million in 2023, surpassing any other industry​​ for the thirteenth year running.

This data highlights the pressing need for more robust cybersecurity strategies to protect patient data and ensure continuity of care in this increasingly digitized healthcare environment.

The Change Healthcare breach

On February 21, 2024, Change Healthcare, a major healthcare technology company that processes over 15 billion healthcare transactions annually, fell victim to a ransomware attack by the ALPHV or BlackCat group that compromised more than 4TB of sensitive data, including personal and financial records.

Details on how BlackCat gained unauthorized network access remains undisclosed. However, this group is known for tactics like exploiting Microsoft’s remote desktop protocol and conducting brute-force attacks on Active Directory to obtain sensitive data. It is alleged that Change Healthcare paid a ransom to the group, but this has not yet been confirmed.

On April 8 concerns escalated, with reports suggesting that data from this breach might now be in the hands of another ransomware group, indicating ongoing vulnerabilities and the potential for further misuse of stolen data​ and negative impacts on patients.

Impacts of the Change Healthcare breach

This attack has caused extensive disruptions, affecting the company’s ability to manage revenue cycles and process transactions. The impact on patients and providers has been particularly intense due to Change Healthcare’s major role in the U.S. healthcare system, handling one in every three patient records.

It has also resulted in pharmacies being unable to access information, fill electronic prescriptions properly, and undertake claims processing, affecting both healthcare providers and patients. Some hospitals are experiencing reduced cash flow, hindering their ability to make payroll and purchase medical supplies. The breach has also led to legal consequences, with several class action lawsuits already being filed against Change Healthcare.

This incident has prompted a broader discussion on the need for stricter cybersecurity measures in the healthcare industry to protect patients and providers. Without effective protocols to safeguard against such attacks in the future, and with the increasing dominance of digital operations, they will only keep occurring.

Cybersecurity in healthcare is vital

The widespread negative impacts of cyber attacks and breaches highlights an urgent need for heightened cybersecurity measures and better awareness within the healthcare industry of cyberthreats.

We encourage healthcare firms to invest in market-leading cybersecurity software, protocols, and training, to protect sensitive patient data and ensure the continuous delivery of healthcare services, safeguarding both the industry’s integrity and the well-being of patients.

For more insights into healthcare trends, opportunities, and research, visit Vector Medical Group Insights.