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Ransomware threats to the insurance industry and how to stop them

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The insurance industry regularly faces unique challenges which have only been heightened by the pandemic. Organizations in utilities, healthcare, food, and agriculture sectors have typically been the highest-profile industries for cyber thieves. However, in the past year, we’re now seeing the insurance industry facing extraordinary increases in cyberattacks.

The threat against the insurance industry became clear when a significant ransomware attack recently hit one of the largest insurance companies in the United States, resulting in the loss of client data, including names and Social Security numbers, when it was offloaded to a hacker’s website, and perhaps the largest ransomware payout in history of $40 million dollars.

As the insurance industry increasingly works to digitize their clients’ records from their legacy systems, it introduces a significant additional threat surface for these cyber thieves. The lack of resources, combined with weak cybersecurity defenses and unknowledgeable staff, have presented hackers with the opportunity to target this industry, rich with valuable data.

In every industry, email has become the biggest attack vector and the source for the vast majority of ransomware attacks. While effective communication and increased privacy protection are essential for the livelihood of this industry, there is still more to be done.

What is ransomware and how does it work?

Ransomware is a type of malware software with malicious intent that blocks access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid, usually in the form of bitcoin as it can’t be traced. Ransomware works by encrypting your private files and demanding a payment to restore them, with no guarantee that all the data will be recovered. The software is typically delivered via email through the use of phishing emails, the practice of sending fraudulent information to get you to reveal private and personal information.

The thing about ransomware that is particularly troublesome is that the victim can restore their data without paying the ransom, but that might not be the end of it. Criminals can still wreak havoc, however, by causing financial loss, damage to your reputation, and impacting the business’s bottom line by threatening to make the stolen data public.

Why insurance companies are being targeted

The email threat landscape has been widely influenced by phishing campaigns for over twenty years. The goals are typically to either deliver ransomware or gain access to the organization’s protected health information (PHI). PHI can be sold on the black market, commit insurance fraud, create false identities and even obtain free medical treatment.

Most of the data insurers collect and store is used for underwriting and claims preparation, making it highly sensitive. In the wrong hands, this data can be used to commit crimes on unsuspecting victims. Because of this, insurers face an increased risk of experiencing losses in finances and reputation as well as regulatory repercussions. It is becoming more obvious that better cloud email defenses are needed to safeguard the insurance industry and sensitive patient data from malicious email threats.

Email security is a necessity

Email security is a system of measures that work to keep the content of your email account secure. The threat to your business lies in an email sent with malicious intent, with over 90% of cyberattacks and breaches beginning with a phishing email, making it one of the most common kinds of attacks to be mindful of, often leading to a successful ransomware attack. Phishing is one of the most common methods of delivery for ransomware, and because the information insurance companies collect is so valuable, you can expect these cybercriminals to attempt to extort you.

Tips for preventing a ransomware attack

When it comes to ransomware it pays to be prepared, and prevention is more important than recovery. Here are a few tips for best practices:

  • Thinking before you click is one of the best tools at your disposal. Confirm an email is legitimate before downloading any attachments.
  • Train your staff to be able to spot suspicious emails before interacting with them.
  • Scan content and filter email to remove any phishing and ransomware scams before they reach the inbox.
  • Reduce the vulnerabilities that cybercriminals could exploit by making sure your OS is patched and updated.
  • Backing up your files won’t prevent a ransomware attack, but doing so frequently and automatically will protect the backups you create. This can also help reduce the damage caused by an attack.
  • Protect against malicious URLs and attachments such as those containing ransomware by investing in an effective, multi-layered email security solution that prevents these malicious emails from being delivered to the end-user.

Ensure your safety from ransomware and phishing

Insurance agencies are gatekeepers of important information, and as such will constantly face risks. The threats made by cybercriminals are constantly evolving, so it is important to implement best practices to keep from falling victim to an attack. While there is no one way to stop one from happening, there are several prevention methods. As these attacks increase, it’s become more apparent than ever that better email cloud defenses are needed to protect information.

Justice Levine is an ambitious, goal-oriented Communications Manager and content creator for LinuxSecurity.com and GuardianDigital.com who strives to write quality pieces that educate both the audience and himself. Justice earned a BA in Communications with a concentration in Journalism from Ramapo College of New Jersey.

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