Cybersecurity threats continue to pose a major challenge for veterinary practices, with data showing a 28 percent increase in the third quarter of 2022 year-over-year. Unfortunately, despite the threats that cybercriminals pose to the industry, addressing the problem has been relegated to the background as other issues, such as the rising cost of operating a veterinary practice, have become a priority as the industry struggles to survive. This has given cybercriminals a window of opportunity, which they are using to launch attacks aimed at disrupting services, holding information systems hostage for financial gain and, in some cases, wiping out data.
Therefore, it is important for veterinary practices to know some of the top cybersecurity threats they are likely to encounter as they continue to simmer through the current operating environment. Below is the top 10 list of these cybersecurity threats your veterinary practice should be aware of:
Malware, the short term for malicious software, is the blanket term used to refer to harmful computer programs such as viruses, ransomware, worms, trojans, e.t.c. which are used to wreak havoc on computer systems and sometimes gain sensitive information. In most cases, malware is used to extract confidential information from computer systems, deny services, and gain access to sensitive information.
In the past few years, malware has evolved to evade cybersecurity measures such as firewalls and anti-malware, which has made them more effective when used against an organization. Cybercriminals have also evolved in how they deploy malware, with most now using a human-driven approach, where systems are studied and deployment is done manually.
As a veterinary practice, some of the ways you can do to avoid being attacked by malware is by ensuring your firewall and anti-malware are always updated. You should also ensure your operating systems are up to date with the latest security features. Training your staff can also help address the problem of malware.
Ransomware is a subset of malware used to extort money from victims. In most cases, ransomware encrypts files of their victims’ computer systems and notifies them of the cybersecurity breach. They then attempt to negotiate with their victims by promising them a decryption key capable of unlocking their computer systems once they pay the requested amount.
Unfortunately, in most cases, even when the victims pay the requested ransom to get their files back, a decryption key is not given. They also become future targets of such attacks. Paying cybercriminals also puts them in the crosshairs of law enforcement.
As a veterinary practice, ensuring that you have backed up your data can be a good deterrent and response to a ransomware attack.
One of the most successful methods of launching a cyberattack has been the use of phishing, where cybercriminals pose as legitimate entities and trick their victims into actions that put their computer systems in danger.
Unfortunately, most unsuspecting employees are quick to open phishing campaigns and can put your veterinary practice at risk of cyberattack escalation. The best way to avoid such attacks is by training your staff on how to recognize such attacks.
4. Social Engineering
Social engineering relies on human errors to launch an attack. It is also one of the most effective methods of launching cyberattacks. It encompasses techniques such as baiting, scareware, phishing, pretexting and spear phishing.
Veterinary practices can avoid falling victim to social engineering techniques by training their staff on how to recognize such attacks. They can also implement two-factor authentication and place protocols for verifying details before giving access to computer systems.
5. Third-Party Exposure
Over the past few years, supply chain attacks have become a common problem in the cybersecurity space. These types of attacks rely on third-party vulnerabilities to launch attacks on their targeted organizations.
Unfortunately, for these types of attacks, there is little that veterinary practices can do except possibly vet their software suppliers and third-party applications they use.
6. Configuration Mistakes
Misconfigured servers and computer systems have also been a source of some of the largest cybersecurity compromises of the past few years. In most cases, misconfigurations happen due to human error and can result in cybercriminals gaining access to your entire computer system and launching attacks.
Running periodic checks on your computer systems can help locate misconfigurations in your hardware and software and possibly prevent your veterinary practice from falling victim to cybercriminals.
7. Cloud Vulnerabilities
As veterinary practices continue to migrate to cloud-based solutions for most of their day-to-day applications, cybercriminals have become focused on such platforms. Research released by IBM found that cloud vulnerabilities had shot up by over 150 percent in the past five years, indicating a concerted effort by cybercriminals targeting these platforms.
In most cases, veterinary practices will not even know they have been attacked until the cloud service providers inform them. Therefore, it is important for practice owners to vet the type of providers they use to avoid becoming victims of cyberattacks.
8. Mobile Devices Vulnerabilities
In a world where we have become heavily reliant on mobile phones, their vulnerabilities have become significant, with cybercriminals also taking a keen interest in ensuring they have the latest techniques for launching mobile-based cyberattacks. Mobile phones, when attacked or compromised, are able to give cybercriminals access to sensitive information such as emails, text and phone records, which can be used for other types of attacks.
Therefore, it is important to ensure that your veterinary practice does not have a bring your own device policy. In cases where it is unavoidable, your staff need to be trained to ensure they are not bringing vulnerable devices to your practice.
9. Internal Employees
Your staff can also become the source of your next cyberattack, both intentionally or unintentionally. For unintentional compromises from your staff, you can address the problem by training them on how to handle different technologies they use on a day-to-day basis.
Unfortunately, intentional compromises from your staff are hard to stop and, in most cases, can go undetected for a long period of time. This can only be avoided by implementing access control to minimize the cybersecurity threat.
10. Data Poisoning
Data poisoning involves introducing faulty data to a legitimate application with malicious intent. For instance, injecting malicious statistical data into veterinary practice research can harm their legitimacy and paint a different picture from the truth. For systems with large data, the poisoning can go undetected and alter the outcome of the results intended, for instance, a financial statement, which can be problematic to a veterinary practice.
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