As ransomware evolves, education edges healthcare as biggest target, says new report

Rate of attacks has steadily increased since 2015 across all industries; healthcare holds third place with 3.5 percent of organizations experiencing an attack.
By Jessica Davis
11:27 AM

Several ransomware attacks on healthcare companies have made headlines this year, and the attacks are spreading not only in healthcare, but in all sectors.

While ransomware has plagued the healthcare industry this year, a recent report from security firm BitSight found it’s surprisingly not the most attacked industry. The report analyzed security ratings of 20,000 companies in the healthcare, financial, education, government, retail and energy sectors.

The education industry holds the lead with 13 percent of its organizations hacked, which is more than three times the rate of ransomware found in healthcare and more than 10 times that of the financial sector, the report found.

Government agencies followed closely behind with 6 percent, and healthcare comes in third with 3.5 percent of its organizations hit by ransomware. The financial sector held the lowest risk at 1.5 percent of organizations affected.

The rate of ransomware in every industry has greatly increased from last year. In some instances, it’s double or tripled, according to the report. The cause is the steady increase of the availability of ransomware software, including Locky.

And ransomware continues to evolve.

“Ransomware is a legitimate threat, with estimates from the U.S. Justice Department showing that over 4,000 of these attacks have occurred every day since the beginning of 2016,” BitSight Co-Founder, CTO Stephen Boyer said in a statement.

“While several ransomware attacks on healthcare companies have made headlines this year, the issue is more widespread,” he added.

While all sectors saw no increase or decrease in security rankings, the education industry saw its security rating drop about 15 percent, the report found. Small budgets and IT teams make it difficult for K-12 schools to fend off these attacks. Further, universities with excessive file-sharing activity compounds these issues.

Hackers are seeking medical records, social security numbers, financial information and research data from schools. The report found that many academic institutions pay the ransom to avoid HIPAA concerns and regulatory issues.

Ransomware is gaining traction, as “cybercriminals seem to be finding a lucrative business through ransomware attacks,” Boyer said. “Establishing email security protocols, monitoring key third-party vendors, tracking security ratings and avoiding file sharing are all ways to mitigate risks associated with ransomware.”

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