Should we be worried

About state-sponsored attacks against hospitals?

Security and the Board Need to Speak the Same Language

How security leaders speak to thier C-Suite and Board can make all the difference

The Rising Threat of Offensive AI

Can we trust what we see, hear and are told?

Who'd want to be a CISO?

Challenging job, but increasingly well paid

Medical Tourism - Growing in Popularity

Safe, fun, and much, MUCH more cost-effecitive

The Changing Face of the Security Leader

The role is changing, but what does the future hold?

Cyber Risk Insurance Won't Save Your Reputation

Be careful what you purchase and for what reason

The ‘TRUE’ Cost of a Cyber Attack

It seems that every year the negative impact of a cyber attack reaches dizzying new levels – overlapping regulatory fines, restitution and identity / credit monitoring, punitive damages, and of course incident handling and clean-up costs for fixing what should have been fixed in the first place, had the organization understood the risks and not chosen to ignore them.

But it’s not just as simple as writing off some vast sum of operating profit and having to explain that loss to shareholders or governing boards. Longer term damage to reputation can take years to recover from – if at all. I know of many firms and individuals that will never do business again with an entity that lost their data and caused them so much pain. Do executives and their governing boards even consider the long-term costs of the loss of their reputation?

And what happens when someone dies as a result of a cyber-attack as happened recently at University Hospital Düsseldorf where prosecutors opened a homicide case against the Russian perpetrators of a ransomware scheme? What will be the long-term impact to the university hospital’s funding, to its patient numbers, its standing in the academic and local communities, and how many medical students, doctors and other medical professionals will want to study or work there?

Medical malpractice suits already run to tens of millions of dollars in the US. What is going to be the financial and reputational costs to a healthcare provider when patients expire on the operating table, or while connected to a medical device that is hacked by cyber criminals? Criminals seeking extortion payments or simply trying to expand their foothold on healthcare networks, while inadvertently breaking critical life-sustaining medical devices?

At this point many executives might be accusing me of raising fear uncertainty and doubt or FUD as its also known. But am I? Doesn’t the German woman who died in Düsseldorf when hospital IT systems were attacked with ransomware make this very real? I would wager that the recent German case is not alone and that many other deaths caused by hackers or weak cybersecurity have simply been reported in a different way, conveniently covering up failures in IT and IoT equipment so as to absolve providers from potential legal liability from families and regulators.

Ethical hackers like Barnaby Jack were demonstrating how easy it is to hack a medical device nearly a decade ago. Ever since, security conferences have featured numerous hackathons of medical equipment, and on-stage demonstrations how to hack an infusion pump, XRay machine, or other piece of medical equipment.

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev demonstrated last year how easy it was to intercept medical PACS images and change them to add or remove tumors fooling the majority of radiologists and AI software alike. While Cylera last year, discovered an attack vector that can change the content of a medical DICOM image to include malware that can be used to infiltrate the healthcare network, simply by sharing or viewing a PACS image, something that happens thousands of times a day in every hospital.

This is not science fiction or FUD. This stuff is out there in the public domain and working exploits are most definitely in the wild. Another hospital or an entire health system the size of UHS could be attacked tomorrow and rendered unable to treat patients by a cyber attack against vulnerable IT or IoT assets. 

Healthcare providers the world over need to gain a better understanding of what assets they have connecting to their networks and what risks each of those assets represents not only to any patients which may be attached to the device, or being treated by such a system, but also to the broader healthcare network. Any endpoint asset could be used as an infiltration vector and foothold for expanding the attack. You don't need a wooden Trojan horse to get inside the perimeter of a hospital network, just access to an insecure endpoint device. Identifying and risk assessing all your assets is absolutely critical today, and preferably to NIST SP 800-30 standards, which after all is a requirement of the HIPAA Security Rule.

But it’s not just a risk analysis that is needed to protect patients, providers also need to ensure that they have put in place adequate protections and compensating security controls. This is where many HDOs come unstuck - they simply don't have the staff cycles to even evaluate the risks, let alone remediate potential life threatening problems, even though they may already have some of the tools in place to segment high risk devices from the rest of the network.

The Cylera MedCommand platform automates this entire security risk management workflow identifying and then adding assets to an asset management system, risks to GRC and risk management tools, identifying IOCs and creating alerts via an existing SIEM or MDR, while talking directly with an existing NAC to automatically isolate and quarantine any compromised endpoints before patients are put at risk. Learn more or request a demo to understand how Cylera has used artificial intelligence and machine learning to simplify and automate what would otherwise be a labor intensive and cumbersome task.

Ryuk: Protecting Clinical Engineering from Ransomware Attack

An uptick in the Russian language criminal underground in the run up to the 2020 US presidential election, suggested a massive coordinated campaign to disrupt the United States by destructive ransomware attacks against US hospitals and other healthcare delivery organizations. Whether this was party motivated by the Kremlin to weaken democratic resolve and confidence in the US election systems is so far unknown, as is any intended manipulation of results to favor one presidential candidate over another. What is known however, is that the United States government in coordination with Microsoft and other technology companies, managed to take down the majority of an extensive global Trickbot network a few weeks before this threat was first discovered, so this may have been an attempted retribution for cyber-criminals. Trickbot is used to infect computers with Ryuk and other malicious ransomware software.

The threat was considered so great, and so many prime US hospitals mentioned by name in criminal underground conversations, that the CISA, FBI and HHS held several joint briefings for hospital executives and those who support them. These briefings outlined the nature of the threat, and advised HDOs to be on the look out for anomalous activity that could be an indicator of compromise (IOC), while patching known attack vectors and other security vulnerabilities with all due haste.

The American College of Clinical Engineering in support of its members, requested that Cylera and its threat intelligence entity CyleraLabs based in Madrid, provide a deeper drive on the Ryuk ransomware family, and brief the ACCE membership on IOCs while providing advice to member hospitals how to prevent and recover from any such attack. The following briefing and panel discussion with MDs, security leaders and clinical engineers is the result of that request.


Safely Disposing of the Needle in the Haystack: Managing the Cyber Risks of Healthcare IoT

During the early months of the Covid-19 outbreak, healthcare professionals were overworked and under-supplied. Governments were in chaos and squabbling over even the simplest of safety measures. Frontline facilities overflowed with terrified patients.

A nurse adjusts a face mask she’s been wearing for days. The message “smile for me” that she scribbled on in marker, is now as faded and hollow in message, as she feels in her ability to help the sick. She leans against a wall and checks her phone, hoping for a message from her family. She’s too afraid to go home in case she spreads the disease to her children, so she sleeps in the staff break room, along with her colleagues. Text messages are the only tether she has to hope.

An email pops into her mailbox. The subject line reads: “ALL STAFF: CORONAVIRUS AWARENESS”. The message notifies all medical personnel of facility wide online seminars to discuss new treatment measures and safety requirements. Exhausted, she clicks the link and registers for a seminar and thinks nothing more of another pointless bureaucratic task completed.

In the hours that follow, criminals use her credentials to access patient record systems, medical imaging suites and even internet-connected patient telemetry and treatment devices. By morning, every system critical to patient care is locked down with ransomware. The hospital is rendered useless. As administrators work to relocate patients to equally overloaded hospitals, medical staff resort to 1950’s paper-and-pen communication methods, slowing patient care by minutes and even hours. Those lost ticks of the clock, cost the lives of several patients with pre-existing heart conditions. This has actually happened in a hospital shuttered after a coronavirus-themed attack.

Join Mark Sangster from eSentire and the author as they discuss the cybersecurity risks of Healthcare IoT on the CyberSec Decoded Podcast.

Listen to the podcast below: 



Listen to more CyberSec Decoded podcasts 


Healthcare needs all the help it can get.

Understaffed, under-equipped, and under-funded, for security tools and services, the healthcare industry is being targeted by cyber criminals and pariah nation states for the value of its assets. This includes its extensive PHI, PII and valuable clinical trail data and research IP. 

The Russian Federation and the Peoples Republic of China have both this year, been caught red-handed attempting to steal clinical trial and research data surrounding COVID vaccines. And that says nothing of the wholesale theft of other IP from university and pharmaceutical labs, along with other research facilities going back for a decade or more in China's case. 

In fact, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has dedicated tens of thousands of PLA officers in its various cyber divisions, to the theft of western IP and commercial trade secrets, as previously reported by Fireeye-Mandiant and many others including this blog. These actions appear to be not only purposefully targetted but part of a centrally directed campaign by Chinese leaders to ensure the success of the the CCPs 'Made in China 2025' program when it plans to be totally self sufficient from the need for western goods and services.

It is however, the rise in extortion attacks that are most worrying. A recent uptick in the level of background chatter in cyber criminal hacker forums, was cause for the FBI, HHS and CISA to issue a threat briefing that healthcare was being actively targeted by Russian Trickbot-Ryuk ransomware gangs, and that healthcare IT and security staff should be on alert. This however was not before a massive ransomware attack had decimated one more US based international health system.

After decades of under-funding and de-prioritization, how can hospitals and other healthcare providers possibly build up their cybersecurity defenses to a level that is needed to protect against a rising wave of attacks and keep patients safe? This was the subject of the first ever Healthcare Managed Security Services Forum recently attracting over 150 attendees and more than 30 speakers and panelists drawn from the crème de la crème of healthcare. A full day virtual conference that heard from CEOs, CIOs, CISOs, CMIOs, Professors and Doctors of Medicine, and more than a few experts in the field of clinical engineering and biomedical / HIoT security. 

I was privileged to be asked to compère for the the all day event. Listen to the kick off below: 

The Cost of a Data Breach

According to the IBM / Ponemon 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report, data breaches cost businesses an average of $3.86 million per incident. The report is based on 524 companies that experienced data breaches globally. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. continues to have the highest average cost per breach ($8.64 million), while Brazil has the lowest one ($1.12 million).

The cost of a data breach includes losses such as lost business, legal fees, and compensation & restitution to affected customers. Its also includes rising cyber investigation expenses and fines for compliance failures. According to the report, there are 4 main areas in that lead to this growing cost. These include:
  • Detection, escalation, and investigation, incident handling, etc.
  • Lost business with customers and partners
  • Notification of affected parties, partners, and regulatory authorities
  • Cleanup and response including the remediation of vulnerabilities that should, in retrospect, have been fixed long before the breach

These sums do not include the cost of the loss of reputation, nor do they include business lost forever as a result of loss of confidence by partners and customers, some of whom may have been significantly damaged as a result of the cybersecurity incident, or the failure of the attacked company to deliver according to contractual agreements during the incident.

Nor do these figures include the expanded costs of investigation and clean up of a distributed 'remote' workforce as has become common under COVID restrictions in 2020. In such cases this average cost rises to over $4 million US dollars the report concludes.

According to the study, the average time to identify and contain a breach is 280 days, 207 days to identify the problem and 73 days to contain it. This indicates that most organizations do not have effective 24/7 security operations monitoring or incident response capabilities, and that many incidents often go unnoticed till a regulator intercedes, by investigating a discovered breach of non-public data.

While cyber-forensic investigation is not cheap by any means, the greatest costs to businesses of a breach is lost business, the reports claims, which represents about 40% of the total average cost of a data breach. In other words, out of the average $3.86 million that a breach costs, around $1.5 million is linked to loss of revenue and customers.

Most importantly however, the report points out that security breaches directly affect the company's reputation, damaging the brand and impacting acquisition and retention of business. While some consumers may be extremely fickle chasing the best deal regardless, others may be lost forever.


While all industries are affected by data breaches, the costs of a healthcare breach far exceeds all other verticals. It is perhaps the combination of a rich and diverse source of data - PHI, PII and IP, found in hospitals and clinics, and the regulatory protections enforced under law that make healthcare a particularly expensive breach proposition. The healthcare industry’s breach life-cycle is also longer, averaging about 329 days compared to the overall average of 280 days. That leads to higher costs. At the same time, healthcare spends less on cybersecurity than most other industry verticals, and so is an easy target for cyber criminals and pariah nation states given its relative lack of preparedness.

“Healthcare is a highly regulated industry and faces a lot of regulatory burdens when it comes to remediation of a breach, and there are a lot of additional costs with medical records compared to other types of record.” claimed Charles Debeck, senior threat analyst at IBM X-Force IRIS.

While rising CEO Fraud or Business Email Compromise (BEC) accounted for 5% of malicious breaches, the average cost of a ransomware breach was a staggering $4.44 million. Though the average cost of a breach is relatively unchanged from 2019, IBM says the costs are getting smaller for prepared companies and much larger for those that don’t take any precautions.

"If you dig deeper into the data what we saw was an increasing divergence between organizations that took effective cybersecurity precautions versus organizations that didn't." claimed Debeck.

“This divergence has been increasing year over year; the organizations that are engaging in effective cybersecurity practices are seeing significantly reduced costs, the organizations that aren't engaging in these same practices are facing significantly higher costs” he added.

"Given the massive size of recent GDPR fines, OCR penalties, and state breach rules, most of which are not reported in time, it undoubtedly makes a lot more sense to invest in security up front, rather than to throw the dice and take a chance that it won't be you that gets hit with a cyber incident," claimed Richard Staynings, Chief Security Strategist with Cylera, a pioneer in the security of medical and HIoT devices. "The problem is, that in healthcare, most HIPAA Covered Entities have at best, only a partial appreciation of where their PHI data resides. Most don't consider the thousands of medical devices on their networks, or what data resides on each of those devices. Now that HIoT devices outnumber IT endpoints such as workstations, laptops and servers, healthcare IT and security teams are often looking in the wrong places for risks and vulnerabilities," he added.

Read the full Ponemon Report for details.



Tweens and Technology

Cybersecurity interns and entry level recruits aren't dropped off by the stork - they need to be nurtured!

I have written much about the need to better equip the children of today for the jobs of tomorrow, particularly when it comes to building a knowledgeable and capable cybersecurity workforce. The Cisco Annual Cybersecurity Reports and many other organizations with a vested interest in a ensuring a good pipeline of entry level recruits, have been highlighting the gap between available resources and cybersecurity job openings for many years now. Despite theirs, and many others, best efforts, the gap between demand for cybersecurity professionals and the available supply, appears to be getting larger each year. 

This is not that our cyber and technology-equipped school leavers aren't increasing numerically or in the depth of their skills, but that those numbers are not increasing fast enough to keep pace with demand. 

A lot of children are also being left behind, starting school with little to no exposure to math, sciences or technology. Many lack a computer at home or any form of access to the Internet till they get to school age, by which time they are well and truly left behind. Many children today learn the basics of computing and technology at 2 or 3, at or before Pre-School. They arrive in Kindergarten with the know-how to operate a computer, engage in educational games and other learning content and will be on their way to basic programing by second or third grade. Starting early appears to be critical to success in life, and with technology as perhaps the critical pillar for academic study, work, and success after school, who can blame parents for wanting their children to be provided every opportunity for development and future success. 

But many children are disadvantaged by poverty, unequal access to education and parent(s) working 3 jobs and therefore are not able to spend time with their off-spring at a critical stage of their development. This is where Tweens and Tech comes into play, providing educational technology-based summer camps and free computers to primary and middle school children in the Raleigh Durham area of North Carolina. But Tweens and Tech provides much more than that, so please read their words on their website rather than mine on this one - a great organization performing a worthy and noble cause, and one replicating quickly in other states across the country.

Today I was pleased to join a Fireside Chat with Dr. Anindya Kundu, a Senior Research Fellow at the City University of New York who has written extensively in early childhood development, Rob Martin from Cisco who helped start the Tweens and Tech organization with Derrick Thompson its founder, and two participants of the program - one a current student, the other a graduate of the program and now a teen volunteer.  
Watch the video recording of our discussions below:

Cybersecurity As You Return to School

 With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing most undergraduate and postgraduate classes online, students face multiple challenges, not least of which is securing their work and study environment from increasing levels of cyber attack.

As we are all distracted by our isolation at home, many of us forced out of our comfort zone, and with few opportunities to share concerns with others, cyber criminals know they have weak and easy targets.

The following is a video recording of a panel discussion between various University College professors of cybersecurity at Denver University.

Ai Will Radically Change Healthcare Security

Artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly important in the defense of healthcare providers and patients, while the number and size of cyber attacks against the industry continues to rise to unprecedented levels. All this at a time when many of us are distracted by the current pandemic and in dire need of health services - perhaps now more than ever in our past, other than perhaps in times of kinetic military conflict.

Our outdated security tools and other controls simply cannot cope with sophisticated APTs - (advanced persistent threats) from pariah nation state military espionage units. Nor can it cope with a newly emboldened Eastern Mafia, where organized crime syndicates operate with impunity from behind the former Iron Curtain, seemingly immune from local law enforcement, prosecution, or deportation to the civilized world, where law and order still largely prevail.

Many of these attacks in fact, whether conducted by military officers or proxies, are nothing more than a form of cyber warfare in order to further the political and economic objectives of their host regimes. Destabilizing the more successful west has been an ambition of the USSR since the advent of the Cold War. Today cyber attacks and information warfare add a new dimension to achieve this lasting objective in the competition for global power. Indeed this cyber conflict has been carefully engineered to take advantage of the trickle technique, where on an ongoing trickle of seemingly innocuous minor attacks has been engineered to weaken the internals of other countries over time, careful not to cross a line in the sand that might cause a massive kinetic or other response from the nation being attacked. 

Mainland China's objectives appear to be similar to that of the Russian Federation in its goals of world domination, only less focused on fermenting internal division and more on obtuse power conflict and long term theft of any advantages other nations, including the Russian Federation may possess.

The fact it that as cyber defenders we need better tools to defend and protect against attackers and higher levels of automation since we are out-gunned and out-manned at least 5 to 1 attackers to defenders.

In my presentation below I talk about the rising tide of sophisticated well funded cyber adversaries, the advent of deepfakes, CEO Fraud or Business Email Compromise (BEC) as its also known, and how AI is making these scams even more convincing and difficult to detect. I talk about the need for us to develop and implement AI-based cyber defensive tools to inoculate our networks against attacks. I discuss the need to protect healthcare providers, staff and patients from attack that could result in patient harm or even death. Increased automation and machine intelligence will permit us to respond quickly and thoroughly, and to thwart attacks before patient safety and HIT system availability are impacted.

In healthcare, we need to up our game on the security front. We need to understand what we have connected to our healthcare networks and what risks they pose. We need better threat intelligence and we need better defensive tools to protect against attack. We also need to remove the need and delay for humans to intervene against attacks in process.

As healthcare continues to digitize for improved interoperability and efficiency, cybersecurity needs to be front and center in design considerations and budget allocation if more deaths are to be avoided. Watch my 30 minute presentation below for more on this subject.

Ai & Automation in Healthcare Security

An increasing reliance upon healthcare IT and IoT including thousands of medical devices and wearables to deliver health services is changing the balance of risk across the industry

There was a fine balance between health technology services, risk and security before 2020. Some would say that this balance was nothing of the sort and that the entire healthcare life sciences industry has been accepting far too many cybersecurity risks for far too long as exemplified by all the ransomware attacks against hospitals going back 5 or more years. Or the massive theft by a nation-state of Anthem's entire health insurance customer database in 2015. Most pharmaceutical and clinical research organizations have also been targeted by cyber attack and intellectual property theft for at least a decade and most recently by a number of nation-states all in search of data on COVID-19 cures. No matter how you view the evidence, the healthcare industry out-gunned and out-manned has not fared well against a well funded and highly motivated cadre of cyber thieves and extortionists.

Now enter COVID-19 this year and the massive digital transformation forced upon HDOs in order to spin-up telehealth and telemedicine plans to diagnose and treat patients from their homes rather than on-prem, and at the same time support a non-clinical workforce all working remotely from home.

The threat surface more then doubled over night and risks exploded, all at a time that healthcare CEOs were focused upon pandemic disease management, treating COVID patients, and keeping HDOs financially afloat without their lucrative elective procedures - A throw-back and lasting legacy of the "pay per service" model of US healthcare.

With furloughs of IT and in some cases security staff too, in order to stop the hemorrhaging HDOs suddenly became massively at risk of cyber-attack at precisely the worst possible time. Perpetrators quickly recognized their opportunity and the cyber attacks of 2020 bear witness to the perfect storm impacting healthcare today.

With a steady stream of new technologies to support telehealth, and the replacement of nursing staff with medical devices to monitor and manage patients remotely as far as possible, how are hospital security leaders possibly going to protect healthcare IT and IoT systems from attack and keep patients safe?

With limited budgets and security headcount (or the availability of additional security resources), automation and increased use of artificial intelligence is a CISO's only recourse. This was the subject of my panel discussion recently at the Denver AI & Automation Security Forum where I was privileged to moderate a panel of experts in the field including: 

  • Dr. Benoit Desjardins, M.D., Ph.D, Associate Professor of Radiology and Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, 
  • Michael Archuleta, CIO at Mount San Rafael Hospital 
  • Powell Hamilton, CISO at Centaura Health 
  • Esmond Kane, CISO at Steward Health 
  • Joe Searcy, CSO at Elemental Health

Watch the 30 minute video to hear what each of these experts had to say.


What Keeps Healthcare Security Leaders up at Night?

In these trying times of COVID-19, the cancellation of elective procedures and the general population "avoiding the Doctors Office like the Plague", it's no wonder that hospitals and other HDOs are furloughing staff and tightening their belts. But what does this mean for hospital cybersecurity programs?

The impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare industry has been perhaps been even more dramatic than the transportation and tourism industry, with airlines and hotels going bankrupt all over the world. Both industries have suffered a massive downturn in their traditional business and both have had to quickly pivot to the new reality of conducting business during a global pandemic. But unlike travel and tourism, healthcare has been in the forefront of a treating those infected with the SARS-CoV-2 and dealing with massive levels of disease control, while minimizing those on-site.

At the same time the delivery model for healthcare has drastically changed from on of principally elective procedures and screenings to a model where 90% of business, outside of ICU services for COVID-19 patients, is now conducted remotely via telehealth. In fact, healthcare is widely considered to have undergone the greatest single digital transformation of all time and all within the space of a few weeks, while most IT and security staff were forced to work off-site.

We are condemned to live in interesting times

Cyber-criminals know this too and have plied their craft without let-up since early March with a proliferation of spear phishing campaigns targeting often overworked healthcare staff, many of whom are now working alone from home.

But these are far from the only challenges facing the industry and those whose job it is to secure the systems, data and patient safety so vital to the delivery of healthcare services. Hear from four leaders in the healthcare security and technology space as they discuss the issues facing the sector and offer up some options and effective approaches

  • Richard Staynings, Chief Security Strategist at Cylera 
  • Christian AbouJaoude, CTO at USC Keck School of Medicine. 
  • Esmond Kane, CISO at Steward Health 
  • Brett Cattell, Director of Systems at Robin Healthcare

Healthcare Needs better Access Control


A rising tide of opportunistic ransomware and targeted nation state cyber attacks against medical research labs working on cures for COVID19 has made cybersecurity a turning point for most providers.

Last week in the Cylera blog I wrote about Zero Trust which is slowly growing in popularity across organizations like Google, but has so far, only limited deployment across the healthcare industry. Zero trust may prove to be nothing more than another panacea at the end of the day against a rising tide of cyberattacks, or, it may prove to be a vital cog in the wheel that finally redresses the balance between defenders and attackers by minimizing what can be attacked. I'm betting on the latter personally.

Zero Trust works on the basis of well-known, frequently voiced, but usually not fully implemented security principles of 'Least Privilege' and 'Trust But Verify'. Trust your staff but verify their activity and don't provide them more access than they need to do their jobs. The principles are not too dissimilar to military personnel, where access is granted on the basis of 'need to know' following 'mandatory access control' principles - based upon your role, rank and assignment.

In other words instead of being given access to everything when you join an organization, you should be provided access only to what you need in order to do your job. You get a key to this box and that box but no other boxes and what you access is monitored. Essentially you have segmented or compartmentalized access rather than carte blanche. As your role or assignment changes, so certain keys are revoked and new ones are provided.

One way of looking at this segmentation approach is to think about the story of a fox in the hen house. Rather than one large hen house and one large door, segmentation places each hen in its own hen house with its own locked door. A hungry fox can then only get to one hen with each breach rather than them all at once as is the case in most hen houses today. By limiting and containing a successful attack, the fox only gets to steal one hen which may not be worth the effort to break down its coup door. The loss of one hen won’t put the farmer out of business and alerts him to the fact that there is a fox in his midst and to get his shotgun.

Of course, in this example the fox is an outside threat, but malicious insider threats are a growing concern with rising levels of cyber espionage and theft of commercial trade secrets and intellectual property by staff. The recent story of Xiaolang Zhang is perhaps a good example. Zhang, had worked at Apple in the Bay Area for several years on its autonomous self-driving car project. He announced his intention to leave the company after returning from a trip to China, in order to join a competitor XMotors (aka Xiaopeng Motors) based in Guangzhou.

Before handing in his resignation however, he trolled the Apple network for data and copied over 40GB of trade secrets, and walked out the building with a Linux server, and circuit boards. He was arrested by the FBI at San Jose airport before boarding a plane out of the country. Zhang was caught because he had gone outside of the swim-lane required for his role and had raised suspicions. 'Trust but Verify' in this case landed Zhang in court when verification of his activities took place and were found to be illegitimate.

In healthcare, there is an implicit trust across staff to do the right thing and a common belief that everyone is mission-orientated to provide the best possible patient care. However, that may not always be the case. The value of healthcare data – PII, PHI, and IP such as clinical research into new drugs and treatments is rising in value, and a number of clinical researchers have been caught stealing intellectual property of the hospital or research facility they work for.

Last year a husband and wife team, Yu Zhou, 49, and Li Chen, 46, were charged with stealing intellectual property related to pediatric medical treatments they had worked on while employed at Nationwide Children's Hospital in order to launch their own pharmaceutical company in China. When they took this company public in China, it netted them millions of dollars based on the cutting edge research developed at Nationwide Children's.

Zhou and Chen are not alone however, and nor are they the only Chinese citizens involved in medical IP theft. The NIH and FBI are investigating 180 individual cases of alleged intellectual property theft of biomedical research funded by the U.S. government, primarily involving Chinese or Chinese American researchers, The New York Times reports.

While the principles of Zero Trust and Segmentation would probably not have averted all of these attacks, it is likely that many could have been contained to smaller thefts of data, and alerts raised earlier as verification of access took place, thus alerting security staff to suspicious access.

Zero Trust is a key ingredient in helping to solve healthcare security. Not only is it a very effective preventative control, restricting access by users and objects like applications or devices to data, but it's also a critical indicator of risk, letting your operations team know when anomalous access behavior is attempted.

A Career in Cybersecurity

Anyone who maybe considering their career choices will have noticed that there are a lot of job openings in the cybersecurity space. Every week someone, somewhere, is trying to hire a cybersecurity professional, or so it seems. The job ads are full of openings and anyone with 'cybersecurity' on their Linkedin profile or online resume is probably getting connection requests from recruiters like they just won a large sum of money and offered to give it all away.

According to the Cisco Annual Cybersecurity Report for the past 5 years in a row, there has been a consistent 12x demand over supply for qualified, certified or experienced, security professionals. That means that there's currently 12 open security jobs for every person able to fill that role. With statistics like that, cybersecurity professionals will never be out of a job for long.

About one million people work in cybersecurity in the U.S., but there are nearly 600,000 unfilled positions, data from CyberSeek shows. Of those, 560,000 are in the private sector. In the last 12 months, job openings have increased 29%, more than double the rate of growth between 2018 and 2019, according to Gartner TalentNeuron, which tracks labor market trends. 

Over the past couple of years, demand for cybersecurity staff has literally gone through the roof as one attack follows after another and private and public sector organizations have woken up to the fact that they need more help. In fact, by 2025, it is estimated that there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the USA alone. 

The cyber worker shortage is a particular problem with smaller organizations, everything from municipalities and law firms to hospitals and businesses, that can’t offer high enough pay to attract high-skilled workers, according to the SANS Institute. In 2020, the annual mean wage for information security analysts was $107,580, almost double the mean for all U.S. occupations combined, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But it's not enough to meet demand and organizations are having to get creative to attract cybersecurity staff.

The Department of Homeland Security recently rolled out a new system for hiring cybersecurity personnel in that would allow federal cybersecurity workers to make as much as $255,800, equivalent to the salary of Vice President Kamala Harris. The new pay scale system was created to help the DHS compete for talent, according to the DHS.

The real problem however, is that the United States and many other OECD countries aren't training enough people in high school, university or in technical / vocational colleges.   

'Vocational' versus 'Professional'

With statistics like these it's a wonder that more people aren't running towards a career in cybersecurity, but there are barriers to entry. A clean criminal record is usually required unless you can explain yourself out of prior wrongdoings. Security staff usually have access to all kinds of elevated access permissions in order to do their jobs and no one wants a potential insider working against the team. The classic Catch-22 experience trap that I'll address in more detail later, and finally the professional versus vocational dilemma, all of which confuse successful entry. 
A college degree is usually not needed for a vocational job, but it is often required for professional jobs. And in the cybersecurity space the prevailing thought is that security practitioners are professionals, thus the majority of advertised positions require a degree. A recent (ISC2) report indicates that 86% of the current cybersecurity workforce has a bachelor's degree or higher. Furthermore, a quick search on shows about 46,000 cybersecurity jobs, of which 33,000 (>70%) require a degree.

However, ask anyone working in the cybersecurity field whether a degree is really needed for many cybersecurity positions and they would probably tell you no. What is more important they will tell you is aptitude, ability and willingness to learn, and some security experience. By posting job postings that require a degree for lower level jobs, HR and hiring managers are actually disqualifying many deserving candidates perfectly able and willing to take on that role. And because these potential candidates don't have a degree, they are usually less expensive to hire.

Everything is negotiable

Don't have a college degree but keen to work in security? Tenacity and persistence usually pays off - especially in a tight labor market. If you can show sufficient enthusiasm, passion, and willingness to learn including self-study you have undertaken then chances are you can still get an opportunity to prove yourself. Security Hiring Managers would much rather have someone on their team who is keen, and ready and willing to learn, than someone who has countless degrees and believes that they don't have to prove anything to anyone and may believe they can just cruise through life. But experience is also a factor and there lies the classic Catch-22.

How do you get a foot in the door?

Required Exerience
How do you gain the 'experience' that everyone is asking for to get the job in the first place? Well, sometimes it can be a bit of a Catch 22 - and that's a bit of an understatement. Just read some of job postings requiring 'n' years experience for an 'entry' level position plus a current CISA, CISM or CISSP certification, the latter of which seems to have become a common entry requirement. 
For those who haven't yet come across the CISSP which stands for Certified Information Systems Security Professional, it's a grueling 6 hour long multiple choice exam where every answer is correct but one is more correct than the others. But in addition to passing the exam, in order to become a CISSP, you also need 5 years of experience, or 4 years experience plus a Masters Degree in cybersecurity or a related field.

Its the classic Catch-22 - you can't get the job without the CISSP and you can't get the CISSP without the job experience!

Its also difficult though not impossible to to pass the CISA or CISM certification without at least some experience. 
The truth is that job postings are written by HR professionals, most of whom have very little understanding of what the actual job they are hiring for involves. Someone should make a Hollywood movie about it and call it "Recruiters are from Mars" because they might as well be. 
A classic example of this was a job posting I saw last week that wanted someone with ten years experience of Kubernetes. However Kubernetes is only five years old as a technology, so no one could possibly have more than five years experience. This post of course was quickly noticed by the security community and the job posting became the center of ridicule for a few days before it was taken down. Not only did it make a mockery of the reputable company that had posted it, (I won't mention their name, but needless to say they should have known better), but it highlighted the problem of unrealistic job posting requirements.

Someone should make a Hollywood movie and call it "Recruiters are from Mars" because they might as well be.

Whether the problem ultimately lies with HR, recruiters or hiring managers, there is an unreal expectation in the cybersecurity space. This is a highly, highly, competitive space for scarce security resources and company salary scales are often totally out of touch with market rates. As an example cybersecurity professionals currently make at least 25 to 30 percent more than their peers in IT with the same years of experience and equivalent number of qualifications. Despite this, companies often use the same salary matrix for IT and cybersecurity staff given that security still reports into IT in many organization, often at the CIO level. The result is that to attract any candidates HR has to post more senior roles with higher salaries to find candidates willing to consider working for the company in the first place.

Some of the job postings that demand all kinds of experience would probably command a salary package of at least a million dollars a year if someone had all of those skills, certifications and experience. While I would like to believe that security professionals in their 30s and 40s are making seven figure salary packages, that probably isn't the case for most. In other words, JOB REQUIREMENTS are nothing more than a WISH LIST.
But it's not just experience, the same is true for security certifications and academic qualifications. 

Any recruiter claiming that 'x' security experience, plus 'y' certifications, plus 'z' masters or doctoral degrees is a MUST HAVE, simply couldn't afford to hire that candidate if he or she walked through the door tomorrow. And don't think that working in cybersecurity is a 'boys club' and not open to other sexes either. There is a steadily and growing chorus of very capable women making their mark at every level of the profession - many as CISO.

In other words, you should apply anyway. It might not work all of the time but you only need it to work once to get your foot in the door. It is after all, getting more competitive each year as more and more companies attempt to hire the few security resources that might be looking. Increasingly, companies are having to re-think who they hire, at what level, and what skills are really necessary. They are taking what they can get and providing on-the-job training instead, in order to fill vacancies and get backsides in seats. If a security job has been posted for a long time it probably means that the company is having difficulty filling the position. That might spell 'opportunity' for some.

Companies looking for security certifications will usually pay for the training, the materials and the examination if they want you to obtain one. While the Catch-22 nature of the CISSP might be out of reach for entry level candidates, get yourself certified in an easier credential such as the CompTIA Security+ or some of the SANS GIAC foundational courses. I am also a fan of the ISACA certifications CISA, CRISC, CISM, etc, and cover much of the material for these certs in the masters courses I teach at University of Denver University College. CompTIA Security+ is also included in many of the Associates Degree programs at your local community college and there are usually educational grants and stipends available to cover your fees. You just need to put in the work and most courses now are available online so you can study at nights and weekend from your home after family dinner or putting kids to bed. So you can kill two birds with one stone if you plan your study well and come out with a degree and some certifications at the same time.

A basic security certification combined with a desire to work towards a higher more widely recognized certification or qualification, and an interest and aptitude in cybersecurity might be enough to get you past a CISSP 'required' in the HR job posting and on to the next level with a Zoom or WebEx interview with the security team.

The same is true with academic certificates and degrees. Most universities are now running courses on-line thanks to COVID and many have solid cybersecurity programs at the Associates, Bachelors and Masters level. That allows you to shop around for the best course from the best university at the best price from any reputable university in the world. 
The US has way too many online cybersecurity degree programs to mention here, and the UK and Australia have pivoted most of their 'on-site' programs to 'on-line' as a result of COVID, especially at the masters level. Finally, don't be put off by degree programs in non-English speaking countries, many cybersecurity programs like Germany are taught in English, are incredibly high quality, and are way less expensive than elsewhere.

There are many government grants, and university stipends available for those willing to dig a bit. Companies will also often pay for you to study for degree or certificate.

These education benefits are sometimes capped at $5,000 to $10,000 a year so you may have to plan accordingly and space out your classes to have them fully covered. On a four quarter academic system, pay for Fall and Winter Quarters in one calendar year and expense those fees, then take a course every other Quarter till you are done and have that degree certificate in your hand, all paid for by your employer. This benefits you and may result in a pay raise. It also benefits your employer since you are better skilled and qualified now and they can do more with you - like promote you into a leadership position.
It may take you several years of part time evening or weekend study, but a degree will boost your career opportunities as well as salary expectations so is most definitely worth your time. It may also exempt you from having to keep up with professional certifications like the CISSP, and pay these commercial bodies annual membership fees which can be expensive and annoying.

But How Do I Get Past Automated HR Systems?

Before ubiquitous use of the internet applying for a job involved typing up your resume or CV, making photocopies, and handwriting a cover letter for each job you wanted to apply for and then mail that package into the company. There was a cost in time and materials and this forced people to target the jobs they REALLY wanted to apply to. In the final year of my undergraduate degree, I spent several weeks mailing out over 50 hand written cover letters and resumes to companies I wanted to join on obtaining by bachelors degree. None were successful. Many to this day, never bothered to acknowledge my application or politely decline my application. A broadcast approach to job search didn't work then just as it doesn't work now.

Step forward several decades and today a candidate can blast off thousands of job applications with the click of a button. Linkedin and a heap of other web sites and services will even match your skills and experience to posted job openings and apply automatically for you. Its doubtful many candidates will even remember the names of the companies that they have applied to via these tools, especially if it was weeks ago. The result is, that today employers receive tens of thousands of resumes from all directions for a single job posting.

To cope with this deluge, most companies, somewhat to their detriment, are using automated resume scanning systems to narrow down the thousands of applications they receive. According the Wall Street Journal and a recent Harvard Business School Study these systems are filtering out thousands of good candidates; candidates that would be a good fit for the job if only they could only get in front of the hiring manager.

"Job prospects get tripped up by everything from brief résumé gaps to ballooning job descriptions from employers that lessen the chance they will measure up. Lead Harvard researcher Joseph Fuller cited examples of hospitals scanning résumés of registered nurses for “computer programming” when what they need is someone who can enter patient data into a computer."

You might like to review your resume and fill in any employment gaps with volunteer work or study you were involved in between paid jobs. Gaps for pregnancy, child rearing, travel or overseas postings as a military spouse also need to be filled. Neither computer systems or recruiters like to see gaps where you did nothing for 6 months or more. As for missing certifications, you might be able to get past that by adding to your resume that you are currently studying for the CISSP, the CISA or some other "required" certification.

You might also want to try the backdoor if the front door to a company is locked. Farm your contacts on Linkedin for connections you might have to someone who knows someone who might be able to make a call or shoot an email to the right person for you with an introduction. Its all about WHO you know, whether that's directly or not. I get hit up all the time - everyone from distant relatives, to old workmates and colleagues, to former students wanting to see if I can make a warm intro for them somewhere.

Finally, you could research who the hiring manager is, or his or her boss and try and connect with them yourself via Linkedin or some other means without a warm introduction. It shows initiative and persistence. Companies would much rather hire someone who REALLY wants to work for them than simply the best candidate on paper.

If a candidate can be found without cost i.e. direct via an internal recommendation rather than through a recruiter then this could be to your advantage. Head hunters typically charge between 20% and 35% of starting salary in fees to introduce screened candidates which can be expensive. Going direct may help you to negotiate a better base salary and sign-on bonus also, since there are no indirect costs to hire you.

But you as a candidate need to start somewhere.

In the following 90 minute video, I outline:

  • What is cybersecurity and why is it front and center as we adopt increasing levels of automation and digitalization?
  • Who are the main perpetrators of cyber attacks and what are their motivations?
  • Why is cybersecurity so important today?
  • What are the security frameworks being used to secure organizations?
  • Why you should consider a career in cybersecurity
  • What are those opportunities?
  • How to develop a cybersecurity career strategy
  • What security certifications and qualifications should you consider?
A PDF of this presentation can be downloaded or viewed here:

Useful References and Further Information

      This post was updated 2021.09.05 with links to the Harvard Business School study above and again on 2021.09.21 with links the the CSO article on CRISC.

Ransomware and Increased Attacks against Healthcare

The number of attacks against healthcare and hospitals continues to rise as cyber criminals and pariah nation states take advantage of the current Coronavirus crisis where hospitals in many part of the United States and around the world are distracted by large numbers of infected patients and a workforce that by and large, is now entirely remote outside of clinical care.

This was the subject of discussion for a panel of healthcare security experts today at the Washington HIMSS Chapter Meet Up.

Tri-State MSSF

The challenges of securing healthcare don't get any easier over time. Rising digitalization, adoption of AI and ML, a massive growth in the number of medical and other HIoT devices, and an IT & IS workforce now largely working from home, all introduce additional challenges for CISOs and CIOs.

In the Tri-State area this is compounded by the competition for scarce security resources. Lured by the lucrative salaries and stock options of the New York financial services sector, the problem is becoming acute. How can security leaders attract and retain quality security staff and keep their skills sharp enough to defend against sophisticated attacks when budgetary pressures might otherwise suggest the formation of a team of security generalists?

This was the topic of my discussion panel today with Tim Buntz, Chief of Security at Virtua Health, Esmond Kane, CISO of Steward Health, and Michael Archuleta, CIO of Mt. San Rafael Hospital.

Cybersecurity in a Crisis

Livestream from the HMG Live! Denver CIO Virtual Summit.

The COVID-19 pandemic has required all of us no matter what industry we focus on to re-evaluate our cybersecurity posture and controls given that most staff at most companies now work from home. 

This panel of esteemed security leaders discusses the nuances of cybersecurity today and provides useful advice on what CISOs should consider in their security strategy and tactical controls. 

Do Healthcare Providers Need Help?

Photo: Frank Busch

In an escalating war of cybercrime, smaller healthcare providers are plainly losing more battles than they are winning. Is it time to try a different approach to security?

An increasing number of healthcare providers globally are succumbing to the overwhelming resources of sophisticated nation-state military espionage units and organized crime syndicates. Is it now time for some to consider throwing in the towel and transferring their cyber risks to specialist healthcare managed security services providers?

Covid-19 has transformed healthcare around the world. Many staff have been furloughed as non-emergency procedures are postponed, nearly all non-clinical employees now work from home, and telehealth has largely replaced doctor visits and consults. The attack surface has radically increased and attackers know it!

Many criminals are using this confusion and disruption to attack exposed healthcare systems. They do so for everything from simple criminal monetary gain, via ransomware attacks and other forms of extortion, to the attempted theft of clinical research, other IP, and non-public data, as we reported in our previous article.

Already outnumbered at least five to one, the odds of successfully defending a cyberattack for healthcare providers just got much worse. Would they be better, therefore passing the defensive torch to an outside team of cybersecurity experts?

This was a question I put to my panel of guests this week at the CTG Intelligence Cybersecurity Virtual Forum in Albuquerque, NM. Watch what they had to say below in this 32-minute video.

COVID-19 May Have Just Saved US Healthcare

There’s nothing like a good crisis to cause a re-evaluation of how we do things. While any epidemic is sure to stress the health system of just about any country, in the United States we needed to be jarred out of our comfort zone to re-think how we do things and how we more efficiently deliver healthcare services to the population.

While no one is doubting the dedication of our doctors and nurses or the many others involved in the delivery of health services, we have unfortunately inherited a broken legacy system from the post-war 1940s that has struggled to contain costs, and to provide healthcare services to all who need them. Unrealistic vertical demand for health services has combined with corruption and mass profit taking by certain parts of the system that has led to huge inefficiencies that divert scarce funds away from where they are needed. It has also highlighted the horrific imbalance of access to health services. One only has to look at the COVID death rates between rich and poor Americans to realize that something is very wrong. 
Medical malpractice insurance doubles the costs of a medical procedure, while an overly complex and bureaucratic medical billing and insurance system creams a good percentage off the top of available funds. Reimbursement delays from insurance and patients, neither of whom can figure this stuff out compound losses, however it is the exorbitant costs of pharmaceutical drugs in the US that sucks the life out of the system. It is actually cheaper for Americans to fly to the other side of the world to purchase their US and European manufactured drugs than it is to buy them with insurance at home. This is a subject I wrote about last year to much popular acclaim in a three part story on Medical Tourism.
But public health is a 'public good' to all of us. There is an economic, social, and moral utility for the person sat next to me on the subway or an aircraft to be healthy and disease free for my own benefit, and those I work and live with. Surely this is a lesson we should have learned in the 19th century with Typhoid and other communicable diseases. Yet our national approach to pandemic disease control, appears to be closer to a King in the Middles Ages trying to containing the Black Death, than to 21st century science-based pandemic disease control - even accounting for the fact that some of our elected representatives plainly flunked out of their middle school science classes. Lets face it, US healthcare is in serious trouble. The needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is just a symptomatic expression of much bigger structural problems in our health system. 

In fact, COVID-19 may have just saved US Healthcare from its swan dive – and a spiraling decline of rising costs, and diminishing reimbursement rates, while much of the population is denied access. In the last decade hospitals have frantically engaged in massive cost-shifting between federal, state, IHS, and insurance systems to try and stay afloat. Many haven’t, and that has been devastating for the rural communities they once served. Let’s face it, the system has been broken for a quite a while, and we have done very little about fixing it. COVID-19 however, has changed that!

The truly massive growth in telehealth and telemedicine since February has been amazing. Doctors and nurses love it, patients love it, and it keeps the slightly sick away from those who may be highly contagious and in need of radical medical intervention. Both primary care and specialist physicians have commented how many more patients they can see per hour using video technology, but there are things that we need to fix.

This session looks at what the future of digital healthcare will be, post-COVID, using new tools, new approaches and improved broader access to health services. It will examine necessary changes to regulation, patient identity verification, cybersecurity and the rise of healthcare IoT including wearables.

Hear from two national experts as they share their thoughts for the future of US healthcare.

Hospitals Targeted by Cyber Attack During Covid Crisis

Cyber-criminals and pariah nation-states are taking advantage of the disruption caused by the pandemic to run amok. 

Few things elicit the question of ethics than a lawyer chasing an ambulance leaving a road traffic accident or a hacker targeting a hospital during a global crisis, but the latter is precisely what has been happening since February.
The public and government officials alike, are outraged that cyber criminals would target health systems during a time of global pandemic crisis.

Increase in Cyber Attacks Against Healthcare

As our brave doctors and nurses fight each day to save lives those infected with the coronavirus, hackers and pariah nation-states fight each day to break into our health systems and research centers working on a vaccine or a cure. Ironically, both the virus and many of those engaged in the theft of research into a vaccine appear to come from the same country.

Photo: H.Shaw
Between the months of February and May of this year, there have been 132 reported breaches of healthcare covered entities, according to the HHS. This is an almost 50% increase in reported breaches during the same time last year. Perpetrators appear to be taking advantage of a distracted often remote workforce easily susceptible to phishing and other scams, or gaining access to hospital networks through insecure medical devices and other healthcare IoT systems. "These systems are notoriously difficult to secure and are an acknowledged cybersecurity risk," claimed Tim Ozekcin, CEO of biomedical security company, Cylera.

In a letter this week signed by international political and business leaders, the International Committee of the Red Cross called for governments to take “immediate and decisive action” to punish cyber attackers.

“There are more and more cyberattacks...on the healthcare sector and unless there are really strong measures taken, they will continue,” said Cordula Droege, chief legal officer at the ICRC. “What we’re seeing at the moment are still indications of how devastating it could be.”

Also this week, NATO, issued a statement condemning the "destabilising and malicious cyber activities directed against those whose work is critical to the response against the pandemic, including healthcare services, hospitals and research institutes. These deplorable activities and attacks endanger the lives of our citizens at a time when these critical sectors are needed most, and jeopardise our ability to overcome the pandemic as quickly as possible."

Invoking its founding principle of Collective Defense and its’s more recent Cyber Defence Pledge, NATO confirmed that it is ready to take action against the perpetrators of these cyber attacks.

"Reaffirming NATO's defensive mandate, we are determined to employ the full range of capabilities, including cyber, to deter, defend against and counter the full spectrum of cyber threats," NATO said.

The World Health Organization has reported a 500% increase in cyberattacks on its systems during the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic through April compared with the same period last year, and has been dealing with a major email security breach at the same time while trying to deal with the largest pandemic to hit the world on over a century.

So far this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has investigated 177 data-breach incidents at medical organizations, nearly double the 91 under investigation in the same period in 2019.

Photo: Lianhao Qu

Opportunistic Rise in Cyber-Crime

Cyber-crime appears on the rise everywhere while most of us are out of our comfort zone working from home or otherwise disrupted. According to the FBI, the number of reported cybercrimes has quadrupled for the period of December - April compared to the same period last year. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, known as the IC3, has been swamped with 3 to 4 times the usual number of calls each day as COVID-19 spread across the United States.

According to Tonya Ugoretz, Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI Cyber Division, "there was this brief shining moment when we hoped that, you know, 'gosh cyber criminals are human beings too,' and maybe they would think that targeting or taking advantage of this pandemic for personal profit might be beyond the pale. Sadly, that has not been the case," she reported.

The US FTC has reported that approximately $12 million has been lost due to Corona-virus-related scams since January. But it’s not just the US that has been targeted either. One man in Singapore tried to abscond with €6.64 million from a European pharmaceutical company after taking an order for surgical masks and hand sanitizer that he had no intention of delivering. Thanks to the quick actions of Interpol and Singapore authorities the money was returned and the man arrested.

“We’re very concerned now that we have these very sophisticated actors - nation-states, particularly China and Russia - targeting Covid-19 research, treatment protocols and vaccine development,” said John Riggi, Strategic Advisor for Cybersecurity and Risk at the American Hospital Association.

The message to watch out for potential theft of intellectual property has gone out right across the industry, especially by sophisticated nation-state actors according to officials at a number of leading academic medical centers. "Its like we're fighting two battles at the same time - the Covid-19 pandemic and defending against an escalation in cyber attacks against healthcare, " claimed Chad Wilson, CISO of Stanford Childrens' Hospital.

Hundreds of fake domains have been registered by criminals with names to entice the unsuspecting to click a link to a coronavirus news site, health and well-being site, to a charity site supporting everything from animal shelters for abandoned pets to food banks for the suddenly unemployed. At least one has even attempted to purport to be part of the Centers for Disease Control in Georgia otherwise known as the CDC. And there have been a whole range of scam sites setup to supply N95 masks, rubber gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE) where users place an order never to see any goods – only fraudulent transactions on their credit cards. Many hospitals have also been defrauded in similar ways, receiving sub-par equipment from mainly Chinese manufacturers or none at all.

Intellectual property theft especially at hospitals and research institutes working on investigation of the virus or potential vaccines for COVID-19 has also been rife, especially from so-called international partners, some of whom may have been already compromised. Nation-state-actors are focused on gathering information about the response of US states to the ongoing pandemic and the progress of the research on vaccines with more than one nation-state appearing to be involved.

Photo: CDC

Healthcare & Medical Research Targeted

Most alarmingly though, is a spate of targeted ransomware attacks against hospitals. Last month a number of Czech hospitals and medical research centers were attacked, by as yet unknown perpetrators in what is thought to be a combined infiltration-theft and ransomware attack. The attack breached one of the major Czech COVID-19 testing laboratories at Brno University Hospital in the city of Brno in Moravia. According to Reuters,“The country’s NUKIB cybersecurity watchdog said the attacks, designed to damage or destroy victims’ computers by wiping the boot sector of hard drives.” The similarity with Russian FSB and GRU attacks against Ukrainian and other targets last year would tend to indicate nation-state involvement as would the boot sector wiping first attributed to the Russian GRU's 'Not Petya' attacks.


Colorado Medical Center Hit

But ransomware attacks against hospitals have hit closer to home. At least one US hospital has been hit in the past week by ransomware that encrypted its entire EMR system and its local backups. This was not a random broadcast attack but one carefully crafted against a known Pueblo, Colorado hospital with a un-patched perimeter. The hospital and many of its IT systems are still off-line at the time of writing this post and patient care is still being impacted by the attack. Its website came back up as we were about to go to press with the following message to the community.

This represents a daring escalation by cyber extortionists and risks a very real response by the United States. A mere two days before Parkview was hit, Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State warned that there would be "zero tolerance" for such attacks.

"As the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, malicious cyber activity that impairs the ability of hospitals and healthcare systems to deliver critical services could have deadly results," Pompeo said. "Anyone that engages in such an action should expect consequences," he added.

Drawing a Line in the Sand

Whether the pandemic cyber-attacks are just highly opportunistic criminals with no moral compass, or are a deliberate escalation of the hybrid warfare executed by a few pariah nation-states that have been pushing the boundaries of acceptability over the past few years, the perpetrators are treading on very dangerous ground.

Attacks against national critical infrastructure risk a very different kind of response from governments the world over. Just over a year ago, the Israeli Defense Forces dealt a very firm blow to nefarious cyber actors planning an attack on Israel with an air strike that wiped out HamasCyberHQ flattening the building and all inside.

HAMAS CyberHQ. Photo: Forbes

The US has also taken out a number of cybersecurity adversaries with drone launched hellfire missile attacks in Syria over the past few years. In fact, the US has reserved the right to retaliate against cyber-attacks with military force since 2011. The prospects therefore, for those cybercriminal elements that deliberately target US hospitals and medical research facilities obviously don't look too good.

Whether, and how, the US and other countries decide to respond to attacks against life-sustaining critical infrastructure like hospitals and healthcare research is a topic of hot debate. One issue is the problem of attribution. It's difficult to positively attribute an attack to an individual or a group, especially when more sophisticated attackers are good at covering their tracks or leaving breadcrumbs that point to others. Its also time-consuming, meaning that many years can go by before the culprit of an attack can be finally identified and dealt with.

Once identified, however, there are a wide range of options open to governments, extradition being only one of them. The international rule of law is opaque at best and needs to meet different standards and evidentiary bars in each country and its respective legal system. Even then, some people are considered beyond the law due to their connections. Some countries, notably Russia and other former communist block states, lack extradition treaties with the rest of the world. Going after perpetrators via legal means in the Peoples Republic of China or North Korea is also senseless as they usually operate at the behest of the state, unlike Russia which employs freelance proxies in order to claim plausible deniability. Therefore, governments sometimes need to employ other methods, as Bobby Chesney the co-founder of the Lawfare blog and a highly respected figure in US national security circles, explained during a recent podcast. (Chesney is the Charles I. Francis Professor in Law at The University of Texas School of Law, where he serves as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and teaches courses relating to U.S. national security and constitutional law.)

According to Chesney, there are many perfectly legal avenues for US government agencies to pursue in the apprehension of cybercriminals that attack critical US Infrastructure, especially at a time of declared national emergency. "There is an unpublished line in the sand that if crossed could mean significant consequences for those that do" he claims.

That includes a wide range of punitive measures including black ops, as Roman Seleznev the son of a close Putin ally who was widely regarded as being beyond the law in Russia found out in 2017. Renditioned to the USA, tried and convicted of cybercrimes in at least two different states, Seleznev has the next 27 years to look forward to as a guest of the US prison service.

Photo: NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF)

A Change of Focus

Recognizing that not all cyber attacks can be prevented, many CISOs are focusing more of their attention on the Detect, Response and Recover segments of the NIST CSF. Their focus is on limiting damage and restoring functionality as quickly as possible to minimize impact. "Every minute a critical hospital system is down could mean patient lives, so speedy restoration is critical," claimed Esmond Kane, CISO of Steward Health. "The fact that a breach occurred or a perpetrator was able to gain access to the network and HIT systems, is of secondary concern once systems are back up and running. We have to deal with that later" he adds.

Recovery from Attack

In order to turn the lights back on and restore systems following a cyberattack, a hospital must first eradicate all traces of the ransomware and other malware, then carefully restore data from off-site backup tapes or cloud storage. First, however, the malicious exploit and ransomware code must be identified, forensically preserved by law enforcement for later prosecution of perpetrators, and systems cleaned up and formatted. This can be very time consuming, taking many days and of course, will impact patient care and safety.

Perpetrators also know that thanks to better backup procedures following WannaCry, victims have comprehensive and disconnected backups of their data to avoid paying ransoms which would be illegal in many jurisdictions. Hence they are now executing combined infiltration-theft-extortion attacks, as was recently seen in the Czech Republic. Non-Public data is exfiltrated as part of the attack and when the ransomware clock runs out without a payment being made, a perpetrator will release some protected data to the public internet with a second extortion payment demand threatening to release more regulated PII and PHI data. This is similar to a recent REvil Attack against a Los Angeles celebrity law firm that claimed to have masses of dirty laundry on Donald Trump as well as contracts and other documents for celebrity clients.

Cisco's ZeroTrust Micro Segmentation

Containment and Risk Mitigation

While adoption of a Zero-Trust security framework and the implementation of network segmentation will severely limit the lateral spread of malware across a hospital network, one of the greatest recovery problems is the identification of sleeper malware or extraneous communications by that malware to command and control known as C2 severs. That's where Cylera’s MedCommand software comes into its element by quickly identifying suspicious network traffic, and tracing that traffic back to infected code that can then be eradicated from the network so that restoration of Health IT systems can commence.

Its just one more use of the Cylera MedCommand system. MedCommand identifies healthcare IoT (HIoT) connected assets, while profiling and risk assessing them for security group tag allocation and for network micro-segmentation under Zero Trust. A recent new feature also allows those who are responsible for managing medical devices and other HIoT assets to observe device utilization for better allocation of patients to available devices - something that has become critical when medical devices are short on supply and stretched to capacity under a global pandemic.

Covid patient in hospital isolation room