About 95 percent of hospital e-mail contains threats

Walter WinklerOfficials at Cambridge Memorial Hospital (CMH) are battling viruses of a different sort these days. Hospital staff are fighting hackers, spammers and electronic thieves bent on accessing, stealing or ransoming vital medical information of patients. Six ransomeware attacks have occurred at CMH during the past six months alone. To tackle this, the IT department has implemented a new email filtering solution to better protect its systems.

During its first week in operation, the filtering system received a total of 215,834 emails.

Just 6,247 of these were legitimate and promptly delivered to staff, and 5,101 were deemed “gray mail” (related to social media, marketing and bulk messages), which were only released after reviewed by IT staff.

This means a total of 204,486 – or 95 percent – of emails sent to CMH were in some way a threat to its computing network and were prevented from doing harm.

Spammers are always looking for ways to get around the hospital’s security systems.

“They like a challenge,” said Walter Winkler (pictured), manager of the hospital’s information management technology, which includes health information management.

Recently, an Ottawa hospital and one in the United States were hit by ransomware – a nasty virus that locks up your system, which can only be “unlocked” when a ransom is paid to an anonymous account.

According to a report to the hospital’s board in June, CMH has not been immune to similar attacks.

In his report, Winkler said that while the hospital received about 1.2 million pieces of email, just 42,000 were delivered after being screened by security software. There were six ransomeware attacks against CMH during the past six months.

When detected, IT department officials were alerted and the corrupted computers were removed from the network. The detection of the virus and recovery process was successful each time.

As a final layer of protection for the hospital’s computer network, data backups have been put in place and reviewed daily to ensure successful completion.

Although CMH has, to date, been successful in defeating ransomeware attacks, Winkler said the situation here is no better or worse than other hospital within the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network.

Purveyors of ransomware will blast out infected emails to everyone, hoping to catch someone off guard.

Winkler said IT managers at the area hospitals meet on a monthly basis to hash out the various issues they face, including network security.

While hospital IT management tries to stay on top of the potential threats, Winkler said his first line of defense is really the hospital’s email users.

“Everyone really needs to be on their guard, not only with email, but surfing the net. Some of these viruses are now being embedded on websites and you can be infected before you know it,” he said.

Source: Cambridge Times

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