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Imposter Emails Plague Healthcare Industry

A study looking at cyber-attacks on the healthcare industry has found that 95% of targeted companies encounter emails spoofing their own trusted domain. 

To create the Protecting Patients, Providers, and Payers 2019 Healthcare Threat Report, cybersecurity company Proofpoint analyzed nearly a year’s worth of cyber-attacks against care providers, pharmaceutical/life sciences organizations, and health insurers.

Hundreds of millions of malicious emails later, it was clear to researchers that cyber-criminals were not just attacking infrastructure, but were also using email to directly target people.

Analyzing data spanning the second quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019, researchers found that at each healthcare organization attacked, an average of 65 staff members were targeted. 

Researchers observed a preference for certain keywords in the spoof emails attackers sent when attempting to con money or information out of the patients and business partners of healthcare organizations. When sending emails designed to look like they came from a healthcare provider, criminals commonly used the words "payment," "request," and "urgent" in the subject line.

Healthcare organizations targeted by impostor emails received 43 messages of this type in Q1 2019—a 300% jump from a year ago and more than five times the volume in Q1 2017. Not a single organization analyzed in the study saw a decrease in impostor attacks over that period, and more than half were attacked more often in Q1 2019 than they were in Q1 2017. 

The average impostor attack spoofed 15 healthcare staff members on average across multiple messages. 

According to researchers, threat actors were adept at knowing just what to put in an email to spur healthcare staff into transferring money or sharing sensitive information.

Researchers wrote: "Attackers have grown skilled at researching their targets and using social engineering to exploit human nature. Some lures are just too well researched, expertly crafted, and psychologically potent to resist every time.

"Social engineering works because it taps into the way the human brain works. It uses deep-rooted impulses—such as fear, desire, obedience, and empathy—and turns them against you. And it hijacks your normal thought process to spur you to act on attackers’ behalf."

Morning was the attackers' favorite time to strike, with the largest volume of imposter email sent between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the time zone of the targeted organization. 

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