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Vectra Research Identifies New Attack Within Cloud and Remote Healthcare


Spotlight report on healthcare discredits the widely held belief that external threats would lead to an increase in data breaches during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An upward trend in exploitable behaviors and claims that discredit that external threats would lead to increased internal threat activity was found in the recent 2020 Spotlight Report on Healthcare by Vectra AI, a leader in network threat detection and response (NDR).

This report is based on observations and data from January to May of this year using a sample of 363 opt-in enterprise organizations in healthcare and eight other industries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked the global adoption of cloud services across all industries. However, healthcare has suffered the most sudden and rapid pivot to support overwhelmed infrastructure and increased collaboration using the same strapped IT and security resources.

“Healthcare providers have been tasked with quickly leveraging remote access and cloud analytics to scale their operations,” says Chris Morales, head of security analytics at Vectra. “While cloud computing better optimizes the use of resources in healthcare, it also creates significant risks. This is especially true when cloud adoption happens faster than proper due diligence can be applied by information security personnel. This trend will persist well after the pandemic.”

David Willis, head of cyber, governance and assurance at the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, National Health Service, in the United Kingdom, says those at the partnership have observed a stark and sudden growth in data movement outside of our organization’s traditional boundaries.

“That growth is most likely due to how the NHS has traditionally worked in siloed data centers behind a firewall and has now shifted to the COVID-19 world of cloud-based collaboration," Willis adds.

Security teams must now urgently grapple with where healthcare data resides and how to safeguard it. To do so requires pan-organizational cooperation among IT and security teams as well as visibility that integrates the cloud and the on-premises infrastructure to enable a truly comprehensive threat detection and response capability.

Highlights from the Vectra 2020 Spotlight Report on Healthcare

Vectra investigated network behaviors that are consistent with threats across the entire cyberattack lifecycle – botnet monetization, command and control, internal reconnaissance, lateral movement, and data exfiltration. Upon closer examination, these behaviors were found to be from cloud migration activities, and not attackers.

  • A 38% increase in command-and-control behaviors from January to May 2020, which indicates remote access of internal systems by the remote workforce.
  • The doubling of data exfiltration behaviors, which indicates data leaving internal healthcare networks to external destinations like cloud services.

Lateral movement in 2020 is trending downward for healthcare.

  1. Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) and North America have shown an increase in the volume of external data movement, known as exfiltration. This is consistent with cloud migration.
  2. Smash-and grab behaviors have increased significantly, which can occur with a medical device that instantly sends large volumes of data to a hosted cloud site.
  3. Data smuggler activity has largely increased, which can occur when patient medical records are transferred to cloud storage.

From January to May, the Vectra Cognito NDR platform detected and correlated behaviors consistent with attacker behaviors in host devices, assigned a threat-severity score, and prioritized the highest-risk threats to healthcare. This analysis provides the context needed to better understand what data is moving to the cloud, as well as how it is being used and shared.

For healthcare organizations, the migration of data to the cloud was already in motion, and COVID-19 has accelerated this transition and the policies that govern it. NDR is an effective approach for the detection and response to attackers that circumvent or defeat defensive controls and gain an operating capability inside an organization’s infrastructure.

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