Blog Post April 18, 2024

Cybersecurity for Healthcare: 2024 Threat Insights

The recent ransomware attack on UnitedHealth’s Change Healthcare subsidiary highlighted the attractiveness of the data-rich U.S. healthcare industry to cybercriminals and the severe impact on patients and doctors. Total expenses from the attack are expected to surpass $1 billion, including a $22 million ransomware payment. With cybercriminals leveraging sophisticated techniques to infiltrate systems, encrypt data, and extract sensitive information, the healthcare sector faces significant challenges in safeguarding patient records and maintaining operational efficiency.

This industry spotlight highlights significant trends and developments in the threats, vulnerabilities, and cyberattacks faced by the healthcare industry in the U.S observed from January to March 2024 by Adlumin’s Threat Research Team. 

Industry Spotlight: The Healthcare Industry

Top Threat: Ransomware

Last year, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center released its latest report on Internet crimes and identified the healthcare and public health sectors as the most victimized by ransomware[1]. In fact, the healthcare sector had over 33% more reported victims than the second leading sector, critical manufacturing; 82% more than government facilities, and well more than double the number reported by the financial service sector. While waiting for the latest data reflecting 2023 cases, it’s almost certain that the healthcare sector will continue to see more ransomware attacks.

Ransomware gangs which operate under affiliate models often capture vital data, impose hefty ransoms for data retrieval, and significantly hinder patient care operations. The ransomware affiliate model resembles legitimate affiliate programs – hackers code the malware, while affiliates distribute it through Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS), then share the ransom profits. There may also be shared infrastructure for payout and money laundering operations. Combined, this lowers the barrier to entry for attackers and increases attack volume, fueling the overall threat.

Adlumin has observed wide adoption of a tactic known as double extortion in healthcare sector attacks. In double extortion operations, attackers encrypt sensitive and critical data as part of traditional ransomware operations, and exfiltrate or steal sensitive data. Ransomware actors then threaten public release of the data, meant to force payment of hefty ransoms even if defenders can recover encrypted data and systems from backups or other sources.

Adlumin has also observed ransomware operators increasingly threaten to report victims to regulatory authorities such as the SEC, resulting in almost certain fines if applicable under a host of old and new laws and regulations. Additionally, in uncovering Play ransomware. operations, Adlumin uncovered that ransomware attackers threaten to notify organization’s partners and customers as part ransom messages, a tactic meant to coerce payment. These factors can be especially important for those in the healthcare sector as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) can impose fines for data breaches involving protected health information (PHI). The four categories used for the penalty structure are:[2]

TierDescriptionFines per Violation*
Tier 1A violation that the covered entity was unaware of and could not have realistically avoided, had a reasonable amount of care been taken to abide by HIPAA Rules.$137 to $68,928
Tier 2A violation that the covered entity should have been aware of but could not have avoided even with a reasonable amount of care (but falling short of willful neglect of HIPAA Rules).$1,379 to $68,928
Tier 3A violation suffered as a direct result of “willful neglect” of HIPAA Rules, in cases where an attempt has been made to correct the violation.$13,785 to $68,928
Tier 4A violation of HIPAA Rules constituting willful neglect, where no attempt has been made to correct the violation within 30 days.$68,928 to $2,067,813

*Yearly cap of $2,067,813

Ransomware operators are also beginning to forgo encryption entirely, favoring data exfiltration and extortion operations. Both types have seen usage of Living-Off-the-Land (LOTL) techniques.

LOTL attacks are a stealthy tactic where attackers exploit legitimate tools already present on a system, like PowerShell, the command prompt, or native binaries like certutil, to carry out malicious activities. These “Living Off the Land Binaries” (LOLBins) blend in with normal system operations, making them more difficult to detect and allows attackers to steal data, move laterally within a network, or gain persistence without relying on easily identifiable malware.

Healthcare Top Threats


On December 19, 2023, the FBI announced disruption of RaaS operations carried out by AlphV (also known as “BlackCat”). The FBI seized several websites created by the group and gained visibility into the BlackCat ransomware group’s computer network as part of the investigation[3]. Additionally, authorities offered victims access to an FBI-developed decryption tool allowing for recovery of encrypted data.

In response BlackCat called for open season against the healthcare sector stating, “Because of their actions, we are introducing new rules, or rather, we are removing ALL rules except one, you cannot touch the CIS. You can now block hospitals, nuclear power plants, anything, anywhere.”[4]

On February 27, 2024, CISA, the FBI, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), released a joint advisory which addressed BlackCat’s operations and attacks against the healthcare sector. They noted that, “Since mid-December 2023, of the nearly 70 leaked victims, the healthcare sector has been the most victimized. This is likely in response to the AlphV / Blackcat administrator’s post encouraging its affiliates to target hospitals after operational action against the group and its infrastructure in early December 2023.”[5]

In late February 2024, as part of attacks against the healthcare sector, insurance provider UnitedHealth found itself in the crosshairs of BlackCat operations, it was reported the attack “had a knock-on effect on players across the U.S. healthcare system, as disruptions triggered by the attack have impacted electronic pharmacy refills and insurance transactions.”[6] In a quickly deleted post to its darknet hosted website, BlackCat stated that it stole millions of sensitive records.

BlackSuit Ransomware

In November 2023, the Health Sector Cybersecurity Coordination Center (HC3) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), released a detailed analysis on BlackSuit, a new ransomware strain that poses a credible threat to the healthcare and public health (HPH) sector.

BlackSuit emerged in May 2023 and exhibits significant parallels to the Royal ransomware family, which succeeded the infamous Conti group linked to Russia. BlackSuit’s ties to these active threat actors suggest ongoing, aggressive targeting of the healthcare industry. HC3 outlined BlackSuit’s operations, including its use of double extortion tactics, specific technical details, and potential impact on healthcare services, alongside recommended defenses, and mitigation strategies.

As outlined in the HC3 report, BlackSuit’s impact could be significant, particularly if the group’s ties to the Royal and Conti ransomware families are confirmed. With its use of double extortion tactics, BlackSuit not only encrypts sensitive data on compromised healthcare networks but also threatens to leak stolen data unless a ransom is paid. This approach poses a dual threat: the immediate disruption of healthcare services due to inaccessible patient records and systems, and the long-term damage from the potential exposure of confidential patient data.

BlackSuit operates by encrypting sensitive data on compromised networks, employing a double extortion scheme that has so far targeted a limited number of victims across various sectors, including healthcare, in countries such as the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and the U.K. The analysis reveals BlackSuit’s operational techniques, encrypted file extensions, ransom demand methods, and its distribution via infected email attachments, torrent websites, malicious ads, and trojans.

Despite its limited use, the connections to Royal and Conti hint at a potentially significant threat landscape for the healthcare sector. Technical similarities with the Royal ransomware family, based on binary comparison tools, suggest BlackSuit could be a variant or affiliate of these larger, well-organized ransomware operations.

HHS emphasizes the importance of heightened security measures and preparedness within the healthcare industry to mitigate risks associated with ransomware attacks.

Recommendations to Eliminate Risks

To protect against evolving cyber threats in the healthcare sector, Adlumin recommends practicing good cyber hygiene by staying informed of the threat landscape, updating software regularly, implementing a Security Awareness Program, and deploying endpoint protection solutions.

Adlumin’s threat research team advises healthcare organizations to regularly update software, segment their networks, and plan for incident response. They also recommend implementing security monitoring, and anomaly detection tools. In addition, secure backups, encryption of sensitive data, and HIPAA compliance are crucial elements of a strong cybersecurity strategy.

With a deep understanding of the healthcare sector’s unique challenges and vulnerabilities, Adlumin stands as a reliable partner in strengthening cybersecurity posture and ensuring regulatory compliance. Partnering with Adlumin equips healthcare organizations with the necessary tools and expertise to combat ransomware and protect critical infrastructure effectively.

Stay tuned, Adlumin’s Threat Research team is releasing in-depth mitigation strategies for the healthcare sector.