Ransomware attacks on healthcare systems up more than 200 percent

by | Jan 19, 2023

  • Ransomware attacks on healthcare facilities and hospital systems have more than doubled between 2016 and 2021, according to a study partially conducted by UF Health 
  • The study found that 374 ransomware attacks were carried out during the observed timeframe, exposing the information of approximately 42 million patients nationwide 
  • Ransomware attacks and data breaches have become increasingly common in Florida as of late 
  • Between 2021 and 2022, some of the state’s largest healthcare providers including Broward Health, Jackson Health System, and UF Health suffered breaches of patient information

Hospital ransomware attacks more than doubled between the years of 2016 and 2021, according to a study conducted in part by University of Florida (UF) Health dean of Public Health and Health Professions Beth A.Virnig.

The study details that 374 ransomware attacks were carried out against clinics, hospitals, dental offices, diagnostic laboratories, emergency medical services, and other healthcare delivery organizations during the sampled timeframe, exposing the personal information of approximately 42 million patients nationwide.

“Like all healthcare organizations, the threat of ransomware attacks is one of our biggest security concerns,” said David R. Nelson, president of UF Health. “The finding that these attacks are becoming more frequent and more complex is particularly worrisome.”

Ransomware attacks have become increasingly prevalent within the operating framework of Florida’s healthcare environment, with major hospital systems suffering from crippling attacks that affect the delivery of critical care.

According to the study, ransomware attacks introduce malware into organizations’ electronic systems designed to disrupt operations until payment demands are met.

In late 2022, hackers breached the computer system networks of Broward Health, one of the largest hospital system’s in the state, accessing data including social security numbers, driver’s license information, and the home addresses of more than 1 million patients.

Similarly, Jackson Health System in North Florida faced a ransomware attack last January.

“The finding that these attacks are becoming more frequent and more complex is particularly worrisome,” continued Nelson.

UF Health recently dealt with a major data breach, revealing that 941 patients’ medical records between April 27, 2021, and July 21, 2022 had been cracked.

An investigation into the incident determined that certain patient demographic information such as name, date of birth, mailing address, and phone number were accessed by hackers.

In addition, medical record number, physician’s name, and limited clinical information may have been accessed or viewed. In some instances, the insurance group and subscriber or policy numbers may have also been involved.

The recurring instances of medical data violations and ransomware attacks in Florida call into question the level of digital security infrastructure put in place by the state’s largest health facilities.

With sensitive information proving to be vulnerable to theft and hijacking, hackers have the ability to steal the identity of patients.

While no legislative action has been discussed to mandate a streamlined, more secure system across all of Florida’s major hospitals, data privacy at large is a chief concern of Gov. Ron DeSantis for the upcoming Legislative Session.



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