Who’s Minding the Electronic Store?

I recently couldn’t fill a prescription online because the third party that processes pharmaceutical products for my drug plan was hacked. Little did I know at the time this would be an ongoing problem affecting a substantial part of our healthcare system. We’ll leave policy debates to others and focus on what we can do.

The hack was made at Change Healthcare, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, that manages healthcare technology pipelines and processes 14 billion transactions a year. The company said ransomware criminals ALPHV, or Blackcat, had claimed responsibility for the attack but did not say whether it paid or negotiated a ransom. WIRED has reported a ransom payment of $22 million. The company said its investigation determined that Change Healthcare, Optum, UnitedHealthcare, and UnitedHealth Group systems have been affected.

The American Hospital Association has called it “the most significant cyberattack on the U.S. healthcare system in American history.” Providers can’t get paid for services provided, which affects their ability to pay their bills. They can’t preauthorize procedures or authorize payments for prescriptions. The tragedy is that a lot of people can’t afford to lay out the money for prescriptions, much less procedures. Pharmacies are scrambling for drugs. Treatment is not being provided.

But that’s not the end of the problem. Patient records – sensitive personal information – may have been compromised, and that’s another set of issues.

United Healthcare said it immediately disconnected Change Healthcare and started working with law enforcement agencies and cybersecurity experts. They instituted workarounds, including manual processes to submit information, check eligibility, look at claim status to make claims, clear prior authorizations, and fill prescriptions.

While most of us are nowhere near the size of United Healthcare, we can be ransomware targets and suffer just as significantly on our own level. And on our own level, we must be willing to make the necessary investments in our technology because we depend so much on its operating performance and reliability. A good plan to prevent problems looks something like this:

  1. Make sure all your hardware can run the most up to date software for your operating system, cybersecurity, and apps. For example, Microsoft will no longer support Windows 10 a year from now. You may need to upgrade to systems capable of running Windows 11. Newer versions of other software may not run on Windows 10.
  2. Have a documented process in place to make sure updates for operating system, security, and application software are automatically downloaded and installed on every piece of equipment in your office. You also need to verify the process is being followed.
  3. Have an emergency response plan with people trained to implement it as soon as a problem is detected. That plan may include disconnecting systems from the internet and processes to reconnect or work without full web-based capabilities.

We can help you by assessing your technology assets and liabilities; procuring and installing new technology; and developing an emergency response plan. Call us – 973-433-66776 – or email us for an appointment.

The Ill Winds of Solar Winds

Look for a continuing fallout from the breach of Solar Winds, the giant technology management company that was responsible for the high-level federal government systems that were hacked last year. The hack is top of mind because some of our most sensitive systems were hacked, but businesses were affected, too. It’s time to look at the world of big data management.

The lesson we all need to learn from the hack of Solar Winds is that nothing is truly, truly safe. We don’t know where government agencies and private industry systems were breached – and how badly they were breached – and when it comes to the government systems, we’ll probably never know. But I don’t think we’re going out on a limb by saying that 1.) Solar Winds will need to work extra hard to regain the confidence of customers (and their customers, too) and that if 2.) they don’t succeed in repairing their systems and reputation, they’ll join a lot of other companies on technology’s garbage heap. From our various industry contacts, we had heard customers wanted to leave Solar Winds for reasons other than security.

The big data management companies should be subject to much more scrutiny by government oversight and by their customers. Strict government oversight similar to what we do to monitor CIA activity is necessary because of the extremely critical and sensitive nature of government work. Industry regulation is required to set standards for performance and accountability.

How much oversight and regulation are needed is a political question. What is not political is the need to keep our systems secure and, where possible, insist on transparency in letting us know when things go wrong. Dependency is critical because every system is so intertwined. It’s easy to see it if you look at it like a wheel. In the case of Soar Winds, look at them as the hub, and then look at every organization in their customer list as spokes connecting the hub to the rim. The rim is everyone who does business with any one of the spokes.

Solar Winds and its customers are not the first victims of sophisticated hacking, and unfortunately, they won’t be the last. Google has experienced problems, including an email issue last month, and Microsoft has had its share of issues. Look at what our nation went through with security for our elections.

As individuals we can demand that big data management companies take greater care, but we also need to own our security and asset protection. A lot of it is technology-based. We’ve implored everyone over the years to keep all operating systems, networks and application software up to date – to make sure you download and install updates, security patches and bug fixes. We’ve implored everyone to have all data securely backed up and to have a plan to get your assets – like money in your bank account – when you need them.

Beyond that, be critical of information requested when you fill out forms. Why does somebody need your social security number? Even for a job application, does your prospective employer need that information before they’re ready to do a background check or pay you? Don’t be afraid to question a request or demand a satisfactory answer. For companies where you have critical relationships, like your bank, maintain personal contacts. Know that you can pick up a phone and actually talk to a real human being when you’re concerned about your asset. We can help you with the technology part of security. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for a security audit or to discuss applications and processes that can keep your computers as safe as possible when a big data manager is breached.

Don’t Wait When Hacked

A client got hacked at 5 p.m. and discovered it at 8 p.m. They waited until the next morning to call us. Our advice to them was to shut down their system. Our advice to you is don’t wait – but please use some common sense. We don’t appreciate calls at 5:30 in the morning because you can’t connect to the internet or get your email, but a hack is a whole other story.

If you think you’ve been hacked, shut down – as in “power off” – your computer or your system immediately. If nothing’s running or connected, nothing more can be taken from you, nor can anyone get deeper into your system. Once you call us, we can examine every part of your system and help you take steps to secure it before you and everyone in your business or home goes back online.

If we’ve learned anything from news reports, no system is immune from attack. But there are a number of steps you can take to make an intrusion more difficult – and for small businesses and homes, they may be enough to deter anyone from making a huge effort to invade your system.

In the case of the client who was hacked, he did not have administrative rights to his computer – and that was a big help in minimizing the damage. Administrative rights give those who have them the authority to make all sorts of changes to a computer or a group of networked computers. In addition to adding and removing programs and managing data files, administrative rights can be used to grant permission to other users to perform all of those actions.

In a small business, it makes sense to give several people administrative rights to keep business flowing smoothly. Even if you have automated systems to take care of certain functions, you may need to give people permission to do certain things. However, you need to pay attention to security to benefit from the convenience of this flexibility. We recommend:

  • Keep the number of people who need administrative rights to a bare minimum.
  • Make sure those people change passwords frequently and that they use strong passwords.
  • Limit permissions to certain functions to prevent a hacker from getting carte blanche to your entire system.
  • Set up separate users and log-in credentials for performing administrative functions and delete them after those functions are performed.

The same recommendations can apply to a home computer or home network, with the requirement that children and seniors should not have the ability to install or remove programs.

We also can repeat steps we’ve suggested before:

  • Do not use any simple usernames and passwords for any piece of equipment that is connected to the internet. Every device has a default name and password, and hackers know them all.
  • Use strong passwords and change them often. Strong passwords are usually complex passwords. Hackers have software to figure out certain patterns of numbers and letters, and they can pick up information about anyone from public records. Try not to relate your passwords to that information, but for any password, use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters.
  • Download and install updates from the publishers of your application software. In most cases, the updates contain bug fixes and patches to improve the security of your applications.
  • Keep your anti-virus and malware software up to date and active.

Again, if you get hacked, don’t wait to call us. Time is of the essence. Shut down everything and call 973-433-6676 for immediate help.

Of course, preventive measures offer the best protection. Call us or email us to arrange a security audit of your system. And don’t wait until you’re hacked to do it.

Steps to Take – Mitigate Fallout from Russian Hacking Incident

If you haven’t seen or heard the news, a Russian group has hacked user names and passwords for some 1.2 Billion accounts worldwide.

We urge you to run a virus scan and malware scan as quickly as possible on all of your computers to determine if your system has been infected. This post from The New York Times, which first reported the incident, covers some basic steps you can take. We’ve discussed them before, and they are now very much worth repeating. If you want to learn more, you can read reports from PC Magazine and The New York Times.


As always, if you have any questions or concerns, contact us immediately by phone (973-433-6676) or email.