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Cyber attacks on healthcare doubled in 2021, trend continues in 2022

By Shannon Williams
Wed 1 Jun 2022

Cyber attacks targeting the health and social care sector in Australia doubled in 2021 compared with data from 2020, and the industry is still the most attacked in Australia in 2022, according to new research from Darktrace.

Darktrace’s insights are surfaced by ‘early indicator analysis’ that looks at the breadcrumbs of potential cyber-attacks at several stages before they are attributed to any particular actor and before they escalate into a full-blown crisis.

The data, pulled from Darktrace’s customer base across all industries, shows that healthcare was the most targeted industry in Australia in 2021, overtaking the financial and insurance sector which ranked first in 2020. Figures from January-March 2022 indicate that this trend is continuing, with a 37% increase in malicious activity compared with the same period in 2021. The attacks seen range from ransomware attacks which aim to disable healthcare systems until a sum is paid, to supply chain attacks where attackers evade traditional security controls and attempt to get to the heart of critical systems.

In 2021, Darktrace reported that the IT and Communications sector had been the most targeted sector globally that year, and for the same period in Australia, the IT and Communications sector saw a 13% increase in malicious activity. Attacks on the Australian financial sector meanwhile decreased by 35% year-on-year. The sharp and significant rise in attacks on Australia’s health and social care sector suggests that attackers pivoted to targeting healthcare at a time when security teams were particularly overstretched and new infrastructures such as contact tracing, electronic test reporting, digital certificates and vaccine appointment bookings were being rolled out across the country.

The continued rise in attacks likely reflects that at times of heightened geopolitical tension, for both nation state actors and lone cyber-criminals alike, critical infrastructure and services remain a top target to conduct espionage and cause maximal disruption.

“It will come as no surprise that the health and social care sector was the most targeted Australian industry in 2021,," says Tony Jarvis, director of enterprise security, APJ at Darktrace. 

“It is concerning that the trend is continuing as we speak and we have to do more than just asking humans to be on “high alert”. In the cases we are reporting on the organisations were able to quickly identify and interrupt the threat using artificial intelligence, which meant they suffered no system disruption," he says.

“Australia’s plan to introduce what is being dubbed one of the world’s strictest cyber security laws to bolster defences against critical infrastructure which will apply to the health sector is not perfect, but it shows that government’s focus is in the right place. 

"The time is now to begin conversations about how artificial intelligence uplift and augment defenders of critical infrastructure so that they can stop emerging attacks in real-time before normal operations are disrupted.”

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