Opinion| Protecting patients from ransomware attacks

Tarek Heiba
8 Min Read

The moves made by healthcare leaders to digitally transform health services today will directly impact the long-term wellbeing of citizens and protect the economies of the future. However, realising the true potential of a new, digitalised healthcare sector, navigating the data era and seizing opportunities means not only preparing for innovative technologies but also confronting the rising spectre of cyber and ransomware attacks head on.


Global healthcare systems have been at the heart of societal and economic recovery in the past 20 months. Their resiliency and innovation as regions sought to build more equitable and digital futures for all have been immense, facing the ongoing pandemic and other everyday medical challenges. Now, as governments collaborate with healthcare leaders and tech experts to realise the true potential of digitally driven service solutions, the progress made in recent times must be protected and enhanced.


Healthcare vulnerabilities

Cyberattacks occur every 11 seconds, with the average cost to the healthcare system estimated at $11.9m. In Africa, forms of cybercrime mainly included cyber attacks due to rise in cashless payments, as well as spreading fake news and phishing, according to the Interpol report.

Figures aside, the human cost is invaluable. Already strained under a backlog of pandemic patient appointments, health systems are relying on digital transformations to turbocharge long-term resiliency. But cyberattacks disrupting operations at large hospitals can result in a lack of access to patient data, creating delays and cancellations of time-sensitive procedures. Patients’ lives are put at risk.


Preventative cyber technology is constantly evolving with new innovations to protect data and keep pace with the bad actors; however, a collaborative public and private sector approach is now needed to maximise resilience.


As international governments come together to mount more robust joint defences against cyberattacks, so too should the brightest cyber experts, CIOs, and public health leaders. Representing a large-scale, global security issue, ransomware is everyone’s problem and could hinder healthcare progress if not dealt with decisively. Cyber is ultimately at the core of digital healthcare infrastructure and the basis for future progress, making it essential for combatting today’s healthcare challenges.


Protecting health data

Health data is the lifeblood of progress when it comes to solving healthcare problems. But accelerated digital transformations have created increasing complexities – and data protection must evolve to meet new demands. For example, after a tumultuous couple of years, global healthcare waiting lists escalated, placing pressure on facilities and staff. Telehealth services, supported by always-on digital platforms, initially boosted accessibility to services and continue to streamline efficiencies. Meanwhile, the data sphere continued to grow increasingly complex. Simplified, agile as-a-service data management across the hybrid and multi-cloud is now essential for boosting operational efficiencies.


In the meantime, health records and mobile devices streamlined wait times and minimised patients’ time spent in hospitals, as IoT and edge computing powered patient monitoring. Behind the frontlines, AI technologies led the charge on healthcare research – enabled by high-performance computing. Looking ahead to tech-enabled healthcare futures, it is more important than ever that key decision makers place intrinsic security at the heart of their digital strategies. Retaining trust in the digital innovations that underpin future economies and social wellbeing is critical to sustaining progress. This starts with holistic cyber security. As our most sensitive data, health data requires stringent protection and citizen trust in those processes. It is not surprising that it is also proving to be an alluring target for cyber criminals.


As healthcare leaders look to reinforce the cyber resiliency of their organisations, focusing on their most critical data is key – from records with accompanying images, to object data from diagnostic systems and health surveys. Placing this critical data in a vault will help ensure it is isolated, can’t be modified and can be quickly recovered in the event of an attack – enabling healthcare services to get up and running quickly again.  


As part of Dell’s holistic cyber product offering, our air-gapped cyber vault moves critical data away from the attack surface, physically and logically, isolating it with a secure, automated operational air gap. Unlike standard backup solutions, the air gap locks down management interfaces, requiring separate security credentials and multi-factor authentication (MFA) for access. Our vault solution can be a building block for cyber resilience in this critical era of digital transformation across societies and economies.


Better together

Protecting these unstructured datasets requires a people, process and best-of-breed technology solutions approach. While there is no antidote or 100% failproof approach, enlisting a cyber strategy that focuses on all three areas is critical. Cyber security is evolving quickly to keep pace with cyber criminals and that means cyber strategies should be constantly evolving, too – with stress tests and ongoing assessments to ensure they are fit for purpose. Planning and preparation are vital. This is not a journey that healthcare providers can travel alone – and there is no end in sight.


But the risks of not acting now far outweigh the short-term cost of investing in tighter cyber strategies. Healthcare progress is at stake. It is underpinned by technology innovations that require patient trust, continuity and reliability. Take the potential for Digital Twin technology, which is transforming the sector and enabling healthcare institutions to meet pressing challenges – from personalising healthcare to combating patient wait times. The powerful combination of the Digital Twin, IoT, AI and data analytics will boost patient outcomes and hospital performance. But this must be supported by stringent cyber security to evolve with the trust of patients and healthcare providers – and remain operational in the event of a ransomware attack.


Ransomware is a global challenge, and open, multi stakeholder approaches across sectors will help organisations to ramp up defences. The nature of healthcare makes it particularly vulnerable, and the stakes are high as it powers global and national resilience beyond the pandemic. Securing the viability of healthcare innovations with first-class cyber strategies will benefit everyone, everywhere. As we look to more equitable, sustainable futures that put citizens at the forefront of progress, healthcare cyber security is more than a hot topic – it’s a lifeline.




By Tarek Heiba, General Manager, Egypt and Libya at Dell Technologies


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