DHS: Health care sector is most prone to ransomware


Health care, financial services and IT infrastructure are among the most frequent targets of ransomware in the nation's critical infrastructure sectors, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

A DHS memo issued to critical infrastructure providers in early June provides a vulnerability matrix for 11 of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors the agency is charged with protecting.

The memo doesn't address malware vulnerabilities for the government facilities, food and agriculture, the defense industrial base, nuclear reactors, materials and waste or critical manufacturing sectors.

The health care and public health sector's need to have instantaneous access to patient records makes it a "significant target" for ransomware attacks and possibly the most threatened by the growing cadre of ransomware, according to the June 2 memo issued by DHS' National Protection and Programs Directorate's Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis.

The memo was posted June 19 on the Public Intelligence open-source website.

The health care sector is "frequently targeted" and "highly vulnerable" to ransomware attacks, according to the document.

The health care sector also tends to give IT security spending the short shrift, even though it is highly reliant on access to medical data and internet-connected devices, it said. The proliferation of individual internet-connected devices in an organization increases the susceptibility to ransomware, according to the document.

Since the  the primary driver for ransomware is a quest to squeeze money from victims, the financial services sector is under constant bombardment from cyber criminals pushing the malware.

However, the sector is "well aware of ransomware threats and has sophisticated cyber defenses in place." It warned, however  that, although unlikely, the constant hammering of those assaults on some systems could wind up having some "systemic implications" for the sector, but it didn't note what those implications might be.

The agency said vulnerabilities in the emergency services sector are also a common target for ransomware attacks, were primarily at local and state police and emergency responders. Federal law enforcement organizations, it said, had resources, such as redundant systems and backups, to help their resilience, while small local and state police forces "have been faced with the choice of potentially losing access to files or paying the ransom."

The IT sector, it said, is "commonly targeted" by malicious actors, but  it is a tough target to hit, according to DHS. 

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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