The past few years have seen a surge in the adoption of web-facing software by veterinary practices as the industry continuously streamlines its day-to-day operations. These web-facing technologies include software such as Practice Management Systems (PMS), Electronic Health Records (EHR), Online Booking and Scheduling Systems, Telemedicine Platforms, Client Communication Tools, and Payment Processing Systems.
All these platforms have bridged the gap in accessibility, allowing their users to access many services via the internet. These web-facing technologies have also facilitated various functions in veterinary practices, such as scheduling clients, managing staff, and even treating pets over the Internet.
Unfortunately, as any practice owner would tell you, this web-facing enterprise software, despite its tremendous usefulness in the veterinary industry, has not come without risks. One of these risks has been compromise by cybercriminals.
Common Types of Threats for Web-Facing Software Used in Veterinary Practices
Cyber threats present a growing concern for veterinary practices relying on web-facing enterprise software. Key threats include SQL injection, DDoS attacks, data breaches, and ransomware. These threats can disrupt practice operations and compromise client data.
SQL injection attacks, where attackers manipulate databases through vulnerabilities, can lead to data theft or loss. DDoS attacks, overwhelming systems with traffic, can shut down practice operations. Data breaches expose sensitive client and patient information, leading to identity theft and legal issues. Ransomware, which locks access to data until a ransom is paid, can cause significant financial and reputational damage.
SQL injection attacks are particularly dangerous. They occur when attackers exploit vulnerabilities in a database’s SQL (Structured Query Language) to manipulate or steal data. Attackers insert malicious code into queries, gaining unauthorized access to databases. This can lead to data theft, deletion, or other damaging actions.
A real-life example of such an attack occurred in 2023 when Progress Software warned customers about an SQL injection vulnerability in their MOVEit Transfer and MOVEit Cloud software. This vulnerability, known as CVE-2023-34362, was exploited by the CL0P ransomware group, leading to the deployment of a custom ASP.NET web shell named LEMURLOOT. This allowed the attackers to persist on victim networks and continue their attacks, extracting sensitive files and information. The severity of this attack was notable, as thousands of internet-facing servers running vulnerable versions of MOVEit were identified, indicating the potential scale of the breach. The SQL injection also affected millions of people, including those in veterinary practices, who relied on MOVEit as part of their web-facing enterprise software.
DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks, data breaches, and ransomware also pose significant threats. DDoS attacks can overwhelm a system with traffic, leading to shutdowns. Data breaches expose sensitive client and patient information, potentially leading to identity theft and legal issues. Ransomware locks data until a ransom is paid, causing financial and reputational harm.
Best Practices for Securing Web-Facing Software in Veterinary Practices
As we have seen above, web-facing software that is used by veterinary practices in their day-to-day operations is prone to security risks such as SQL injection, DDoS attacks, and ransomware. To prevent cyber threats and ensure software such as Practice Management Systems (PMS), Electronic Health Records (EHR), and Online Booking and Scheduling Systems are well protected, the following measures should be implemented by veterinary practices.
- Regular Software Updates and Patch Management: Keep all web-facing applications, including Practice Management Systems and Electronic Health Records, updated. This closes security gaps and thwarts many common cyber attacks.
- Strong Authentication Mechanisms: Implement robust password policies and multi-factor authentication. This step is crucial for preventing unauthorized access to sensitive systems and data.
- Staff Cybersecurity Training: Conduct frequent training sessions. Focus on identifying phishing, maintaining software security, and practicing safe internet usage. Informed staff are the first line of defense against cyber threats.
- Data Backup and Recovery Protocols: Regularly back up critical data. Ensure there’s a solid recovery plan in case of data loss due to cyber incidents. This maintains business continuity and minimizes operational disruptions.
- Firewalls and Data Encryption: Use firewalls to monitor network traffic and encrypt sensitive data, both stored and transmitted. Encryption is vital for protecting client and patient information.
- Regular Security Audits: Perform thorough security audits to identify and rectify vulnerabilities in the network and software systems. Proactive identification and resolution of security gaps bolster overall defense mechanisms.
- Collaboration with Cybersecurity Experts: Engage with cybersecurity professionals for specialized advice and solutions. Their expertise can significantly enhance the security measures of a veterinary practice.
- Employ Robust Cybersecurity Policies: Establishing and maintaining a strong cybersecurity policy is fundamental. This includes a hierarchical approach to address the unique needs of different departments and ensures that all employees understand and adhere to key security practices.
With these measures, veterinary practices can create a robust digital defense that protects them from cyber threats targeting their web-facing applications. These proactive steps not only safeguard sensitive client and patient data but also ensure the uninterrupted operation of essential services.