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Why small and medium-sized veterinary practices are prime targets for ransomware attacks

By January 17, 2022February 16th, 2024No Comments

Small and medium-sized veterinary practices mistakenly assume that, due to their size, they are less appealing to ransomware attackers and hackers. However, this is not the case, and cybercriminals are eager to exploit their vulnerabilities and attack them.

While large veterinary practices have presented themselves as more lucrative prey, they have resources and are mostly well equipped to detect, isolate and defend against such attacks, making them unattractive for cybercriminals looking to money as fast as possible. Large practices also have in-house cybersecurity staff, an established threat monitoring, and endpoint detection infrastructure, which makes it almost an impossible endeavor for cybercriminals looking to attack them.

On the other hand, small and medium-sized practices are in acute danger, partly because the owners and staff are often uninformed about common cybersecurity threats they are faced with on a daily basis. They are also faced with a myriad of problems that have made them a prime target for ransomware attacks. Below are some of the reasons why small and medium-sized veterinary practices are being targeted.

Shortage of personnel to deal with cyberattacks

One of the biggest challenges that most small and medium-sized veterinary practices face while protecting themselves against ransomware attacks is the lack of specialized personnel to deal with cybersecurity risks. Unfortunately, this fact is also a great motivator for ransomware attackers looking to compromise and extort them.

Even for moderately equipped small and medium-sized veterinary practices, their staff is not well trained, making them unable to identify potential threats and attacks. This makes it easy for cybercriminals to use methods such as phishing, social engineering, spoofed websites and malvertisements to trick them into downloading ransomware, which can cause serious cybersecurity threats to a practice.

Easy to cripple

Savvy cybercriminals have discovered that big veterinary practices have redundancy systems such as backups, and backups of the backups, to ensure that they are not affected by ransomware when they are attacked. This also makes them not likely to pay them, since they mostly use backup data to restore their services without consulting or speaking with the attackers.

However, due to the cost involved in setting up redundancy systems, small and medium-sized practices mostly do not have the required resources. This makes them extremely vulnerable when they are attacked, and in most cases, shut down their entire IT services. They are also likely to negotiate with ransomware attackers, making them an attractive bet for attackers looking to make money off their ransomware attacks.

Lack of supply chain control

One major disadvantage that small and medium-sized veterinary practices face is, they do not control every aspect of their software supply chain. This makes it easy for cybercriminals to compromise a supply chain and launch a ransomware attack using the method.

The lack of control of the software supply chain has, however, in the past affected big veterinary practices such as National Veterinary Associates (NVA), a California-based company with over 700 practices across the country. The NVA ransomware attack ended up affecting over 400 practices they own and causing damages that and shutdowns that took weeks to restore.

 Unfortunately, when small and medium-sized veterinary practices are attacked through the supply chain, they mostly do not have the luxury to wait for weeks as cybersecurity experts go through their systems. This makes them more vulnerable to cybercriminals’ demands, as they look to restore their services as fast as possible, so they can continue with serving the clients. Cybercriminals are also aware of this fact, and when they launch a successful supply chain attack, they are quick to contact these veterinary practices and offer them a way out if they agree to their demands.

Hybrid work model and rushed digitization

When the pandemic hit, efforts to digitize resulted in a hybrid work model that called for the integration of technology in veterinary practices to reduce the chances of getting infected with Covid-19. Two years later, this rushed digitization that allowed practice owners and staff to work remotely, has also provided cyber criminals another attack vector they can use to attack veterinary practices.

 Among the most affected were the small and medium-sized veterinary practices who, in a rush to digitize, they failed to upgrade their networks and other IT infrastructure to meet the demand for a remote working environment. This has allowed ransomware attackers to easily gain access to their infrastructure and extort money. It has also made them easy targets, because, not only do they not have good infrastructure to support the digitization but they are also more likely to pay ransomware gangs to stop the attacks.

The hybrid work model also relied on a single network that controlled access to every system throughout the building. This also made the attacks more attractive, because a single attack could paralyze the entire network and give ransomware attackers an edge when negotiating with their victims.

 Legacy systems

 Large veterinary practices mostly have processes in place that ensure that they update both their hardware and software to the latest versions. This ensures that they have all the latest security patches, and this makes it harder for cybercriminals to compromise them.

 Unfortunately, this is not the case for small and medium-sized veterinary practices, which rely on old technologies, both software and hardware, for their day-to-day activities. Unfortunately, these legacy systems are mostly a security risk and vulnerable to ransomware attacks. Most savvy ransomware attackers are aware of these details and hence tend to target these practices because they are more likely to succeed in causing havoc and thereby asking for ransom from their victims.

What small and medium-sized veterinary practices should do

Two of the most important factors that have contributed to the growth of ransomware attacks against small and medium-sized veterinary practices are lack of cybersecurity expertise and lack of resources to invest in cybersecurity.

 Fortunately, small initiatives such as training staff and updating your software can have a huge impact on a veterinary practice and prevent future ransomware attacks on your practice. It is also a good practice to consult cybersecurity experts to audit your systems if you feel like you may be vulnerable to a ransomware attack. Keeping yourself informed of the latest cybersecurity threats will also help you to prepare and respond appropriately to any ransomware attempts and attacks and prevent you from becoming a victim.

5 Simple Steps to Protect Your Practice

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