Email, anti-phishing and domain protection cybersecurity company Sendmarc will, in September, launch a new programme to help protect the medical sector against phishing attacks.
Phishing attacks − fraudulent communications aimed at gathering information or spreading malware − against healthcare organisations spiked by 600% by March, and one-third of these attacks used impersonation of a known brand as a tactic to steal money and data, or to deploy a virus or ransomware.
"While these attacks have been seen mostly by healthcare institutions around the world, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has also become a target since the pandemic began, reporting a fivefold increase in the number of cyberattacks compared with the same period last year.
"These attacks were directed at both the WHO’s staff and the public at large," says Sendmarc CSO and co-founder Sacha Matulovich.
Sendmarc points out that South Africa’s Life Hospital Group suffered a cyber attack in June that affected its admissions systems, business processing systems and email servers. As these attacks increase, South Africa’s already stretched healthcare system faces even more pressure.
"As part of their advice for preventing these attacks on healthcare providers, Interpol issued a statement in April advising staff not to open emails from untrusted sources, nor to click links in emails they were not expecting to receive," Matulovich notes.
However, in recent years, criminals have become more sophisticated and are becoming experts at impersonating genuine emails so that it becomes very difficult for the user to decide what is safe and what is dangerous.
A more effective way to deal with these kinds of cyberattacks is to leverage technology as much as possible before expecting an employee to make a decision about a particular email. One of the most effective ways to do this is to make sure that domains are Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance- (DMARC-) compliant, says Matulovich.
DMARC is a global cybersecurity standard and email authentication protocol that was designed to stop a cybercriminal from being able to impersonate corporate email addresses and, thereby, prevent attacks known as spoofing and phishing, he explains.
"To gauge how vulnerable South African healthcare institution domains are to phishing attacks, Sendmarc conducted research into 219 domains used for email by hospitals, clinics, laboratories, treatment centres and medical practitioners.
Of the South African healthcare domains analysed, almost all of them scored three out of five or below on the Sendmarc Safety Score, meaning that their domains are very easy to impersonate and are heavily at risk of a phishing attack, says Matulovich.
“It is clear from our research that South Africa’s healthcare sector is ill-equipped to deal with this increase in cyberattacks.
"In response, Sendmarc will launch a new programme that aims to help a wide cross-section of frontline responders – from hospitals and clinics to laboratories and ambulance services – become DMARC-compliant,” he says.
"Our goal is to help relieve the strain, confusion and threat of loss from healthcare providers who may be vulnerable to cyberattacks at a time when cybersecurity is the last thing on their minds.
"The programme will be launched mid-September, when further details will be made available,” Matulovich says.