FBI cautions healthcare organizations of cyberattacks

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If you think you’re free from cyberattacks, the FBI has news for you.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued a private industry notification to medical and dental facilities regarding the looming dangers of cyberattacks.

The notification points out that cybercriminals have been targeting File Transfer Protocol servers to gain access to patients’ protected health information and personally identifiable information. The criminals access FTP servers operating in “anonymous” mode and use the information gained to “intimidate, harass and blackmail business owners,” according to the FBI.

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“Cybercriminals could also use an FTP server in anonymous mode and configured to allow ‘write’ access to store malicious tools or launch targeted cyberattacks,” the FBI notification said.

FTP servers are commonly used to transfer data between network hosts. A 2015 study out of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor noted FTP has mostly been replaced by HTTP, SCP and BitTorrent. However, the study also found about 1.1 million extant FTP servers allow anonymous access. “These anonymous FTP servers leak sensitive information, such as tax documents and cryptographic secrets,” the study said. “More than 20,000 FTP servers allow public write access, which has facilitated malicious actors’ use of free storage as well as malware deployment and click-fraud attacks.”

To combat this growing threat, the FBI suggests healthcare organizations double-check their networks to ensure FTP servers aren’t running in anonymous mode. If organizations must use anonymous mode, the FBI recommends administrators refrain from storing PHI and PII on the FTP server.

This isn’t the first time the FBI has spoken out about the issue of cybersecurity. Earlier this month, FBI Director James Comey gave the keynote speech at the Boston Conference on Cyber Security. During his address, Comey said cyberthreats are “too fast, too big and too widespread for any of us to address them alone.”

He noted that cybercriminals come from all over and use various means to gain what they want. “And we’re not only worried about loss of data, but corruption of that data and lack of access to our own information,” Comey said.

When asked to elaborate on the number one cyberthreat to healthcare providers, Comey replied with one word: ransomware, according to The National Law Review. On that front, Comey advised healthcare leaders not to pay ransom and to maintain backup systems to protect valuable data. Additionally, Comey urged healthcare organizations to collaborate and work with the FBI in situations involving a cyberattack.

Photo: Epoxydude, Getty Images

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