The University of California San Diego School of Medicine has won a $9.5 million award to support research that aims to protect the U.S. healthcare system against cyberattacks.
The research effort will help the Federal government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) initiative – known as DIGHEALS – to develop techniques that are geared at protecting the critical infrastructure.
“Healthcare systems are highly vulnerable to ransomware attacks, which can cause catastrophic impacts to patient care and pose an existential threat to smaller health systems,” said co-principal investigator Christian Dameff, M.D., emergency medicine physician at UC San Diego Health.
“Developing protocols to protect health systems, especially rural and critical access hospitals, will help save lives and make health care better for all of us,” added Dameff.
As part of the new award, the university will be helping “the researchers develop better ways to prevent and mitigate ransomware attacks, a type of cyberattack in which hackers attempt to extort money from organizations by blocking access to essential computer systems,” stated the university.
“When I talk about cybersecurity, most people only think about protecting patient data,” said Dameff. “That’s all well and good, but we need to be just as concerned about care quality and patient outcomes. The impacts of malware and ransomware don’t stop at the digital border of a hospital.”
According to a recent IBM report, cyberattacks aimed at the healthcare infrastructure in the U.S. have been very costly, and have even crippled institutions to the point of needing to revert to pen and paper to conduct healthcare duties.
“Some smaller systems can’t absorb the costs of a major ransomware attack, so when there is one, we ultimately lose those critical hospitals permanently,” said co-principal investigator Jeffrey Tully, M.D., an assistant clinical professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “This is a worst-case scenario for patients who live in remote areas where there may not be another hospital for miles.”