May 10, 2024

Surviving a Cyber Attack: Practical Steps for Digital Defense

Team Zenith | May 10, 2024 | 8 min read

Cyber attacks, specifically “cyber attack” incidents, pose an imminent threat to our online safety and privacy. Whether it be a ransomware attack encrypting critical data or a phishing scam aiming to steal sensitive information, the need to understand and protect against these invasions is more pressing than ever. This succinct guide outlines the nature of cyber attacks, their various types, and crucially, equips you with the knowledge and tools to shield yourself and your organization from the destructive force of cyber attack threats.


Key Takeaways

• Cyber attacks come in various forms, affecting businesses by exploring weaknesses in digital networks and include ransomware, malware, phishing, DDoS, man-in-the-middle, brute-force, and web-based attacks, with motives often being financial gain or political influence.
• A multi-layered cyber defense strategy is crucial, involving antivirus software, strong password policies, multi-factor authentication, physical security, least privilege access, constant monitoring, risk assessments, incident response plans, and continuous security training for employees.
• Proper incident response procedures, transparent communication during an incident, and the ongoing improvement of cyber defense measures are key to mitigating the impact of cyber attacks, as seen in real-world cases like Change Healthcare and Aspen Dental.


Understanding Cyber Attacks

Understanding the Threat Landscape of Cyber Attacks"

Cyber attacks pose a significant threat to individuals, organizations, and nations, targeting digital infrastructure, data, and systems with malicious intent.

Cyber attacks are a pervasive threat, particularly in the healthcare and dental sectors. Their reach and impact can be substantial, as exemplified by the cybersecurity incident at Henry Schein, a prominent healthcare sector business.

Gaining insight into the history and nature of these attacks paves the way for a reliable defense.

Types of Cyber Attacks:
Cyber attacks take many forms, all aiming to exploit vulnerabilities in digital networks and systems. Ransomware attacks, for instance, hold digital files or systems hostage by encrypting them and demanding payment for the decryption key. Malware attacks, on the other hand, involve malicious software designed to damage or infiltrate a system without the owner’s knowledge.

Some prevalent cyber threats in computer networks include:

• Phishing attacks: deceptive emails designed to look like they come from credible sources, leading to the theft of sensitive information
• Denial-of-Service and Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks: aim to render systems unresponsive by overwhelming their resources with excessive requests
• Brute-force attacks: attempt to gain access to a system by trying all possible combinations of passwords or encryption keys
• Web-based attacks: such as Trojan horses, drive-by attacks, and Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

It is important to be aware of these threats and take appropriate measures to protect against them by implementing effective solutions.

Some attacks exploit network vulnerabilities, such as eavesdropping to intercept data, while others use server weaknesses to take control, as seen in password attacks and session hijacking.

Motivations Behind Cyber Attacks:
Behind every cyber attack is a motive. Financial gain tops the list, with cybercriminals potentially reaping substantial monetary rewards from their illicit activities. Personal vendettas can also drive individuals to launch cyber attacks against organizations or specific individuals they hold grudges against.
Moreover, political reasons, such as influencing elections or destabilizing governments, can also be a driving force behind some cyber attacks.


Protecting Your Company’s Network

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Protecting your network requires a multi-layered approach encompassing robust cybersecurity protocols, regular updates and patches, employee training, and the implementation of advanced threat detection systems.

A robust and multifaceted defense becomes essential given the magnitude and intricacy of cyber threats. To safeguard a company’s network, implementing a multi-layered security approach, known as defense in depth, is critical. This approach involves multiple security defenses overlapping each other, ensuring that if one layer fails, others remain to provide protection.

Implementing a Cybersecurity Strategy:

An all-encompassing cybersecurity strategy should include the following measures:

• Installing antivirus software
• Enforcing robust passwords
• Enforcing strong password policies
• Implementing multi-factor authentication
• Automating software updates
• Implementing physical security controls
• Implementing least privilege access
• Implementing a zero-trust model
• Continuously monitoring network activity, including logins and usage of employee mobile devices.

In addition to these measures, regular updates to security training and adopting engaging methods such as gamification are effective in reinforcing cybersecurity awareness among employees. Organizations also need to conduct risk assessments, establish comprehensive incident response plans, and integrate business continuity planning to effectively handle cyber incidents and preserve operational stability.

Best Practices for Employee Awareness:
Employees represent a significant element in a company’s cybersecurity defenses, making it vital to boost their cybersecurity awareness. Providing training on basic security principles to all staff is a solid first step in this direction. The training should emphasize the importance of strong password practices and the dangers of insecure password usage.

In addition, it’s essential for employees to understand how to identify phishing attempts and social engineering attacks, reducing the risk of falling victim to such threats. A crucial aspect of employee training is to encourage the reporting of any suspicious activities or potential cybersecurity threats, ensuring that the company can take timely action.


Responding to a Cyber Attack

Despite top-notch defenses, the possibility of cyber attacks persists. Thus, planning for a proficient response holds equal importance to constructing formidable defenses. Key to this is:

1. Developing an updated incident response plan
2. Performing attack forensics to identify the source
3. Implementing containment measures to stop further damage
4. Evaluating the impact through damage assessment
5. Refining the incident response process using the knowledge gained from the lessons learned and ongoing improvement measures.

Incident Response Plan:
An incident response plan acts as a guide for proficiently managing cyber incidents. Such a plan, structured by guides such as the NIST Computer Security Incident Handling Guide, is essential for businesses to mitigate the impacts of security incidents. The plan should encompass critical phases like:

1. Preparation
2. Identification
3. Containment
4. Eradication
5. Recovery
6. Analysis of lessons learned for ongoing improvement.

But having an incident response plan is not enough. It needs to be tailored to an organization’s specific needs, assigning clear roles and responsibilities to team members. Clear communication channels and strategies are integral to an incident response plan, ensuring stakeholders are informed during and after a cyber attack.

Communication and Transparency:

Maintaining openness in communication is vital during a cyber attack. By providing necessary information and reducing uncertainty, it reassures stakeholders and customers. For instance, Change Healthcare maintained stakeholder trust by issuing a press release with updates about product and service status during the crisis.

Inclusive communication strategies ensure that customer service teams and other staff are equipped to manage inquiries competently during an incident. Aspen Dental, for example, exemplified ongoing communication commitments by keeping affected parties informed throughout their cyber attack investigation.


Case Studies: Dental and Medical Industry Cyber Attacks

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The frequency of cyber attacks continues to rise annually, with millions of incidents reported worldwide, highlighting the pervasive and evolving nature of the digital threat landscape.

Real-world case studies of cyber attacks in the dental and medical industries provide valuable insights into the nature of these threats and the importance of cybersecurity measures and incident response plans. Two such incidents, at UnitedHealth Group’s Change Healthcare and Aspen Dental, serve as stark reminders of the potential impact of cyber attacks.

UnitedHealth Group’s Change Healthcare Incident:
Change Healthcare experienced significant service disruptions due to a cyberattack orchestrated by AlphV/BlackCat. These disruptions affected payment and prescription processing and data analytics, causing a system shutdown for over a week. The attack’s effects were particularly pronounced on healthcare providers and pharmacy operations, with health systems experiencing delays in revenue management, insurance claims processing, and scheduling new patients.

The incident had a substantial financial impact, especially on smaller healthcare organizations that faced difficulties securing payments from insurance and patients. In response to this, UnitedHealth Group’s Change Healthcare implemented a Temporary Funding Assistance Program, which advanced over $3.3 billion to aid healthcare providers financially during the cyber attack crisis.

Aspen Dental Hacking Incident:
Contrarily, Aspen Dental endured a substantial hacking incident. Despite the challenge, Aspen Dental offices maintained operations and continued patient care, demonstrating their resilience and commitment to patient service. The specifics of Aspen Dental’s incident response are not broadly available, indicating a lack of detailed case study information.

The cyber attack had the potential to compromise patient personal data, including Social Security numbers, health insurance information, bank account details, birth dates, and driver’s license numbers. After the incident, Aspen Dental took steps to prevent future occurrences by enhancing network monitoring and improving access control and system security. They also offered free credit monitoring services to patients potentially affected by the cyber attack and planned to send out notification letters to those potentially impacted, outlining the incident and suggesting measures to protect their information.

MCNA Dental Incident:
Managed Care of North America, Inc., or MCNA Dental, also faced a noteworthy data breach incident in the dental industry. This breach affected nearly 9 million patients, a staggering number that highlights the scale of potential cyber threats. The cyber attack occurred over a period of about a week, allowing unauthorized access to a vast array of patients’ personal information. The importance of dental management in safeguarding patient data cannot be overstated.
The personal information compromised in the breach included:

• Names
• Social Security numbers
• Addresses
• Sensitive dental treatment details

MCNA Dental began notifying affected individuals about the breach, and a law firm started an investigation into MCNA Dental, considering a class action lawsuit for failing to protect patient data.

Henry Schein Incident:
A cyber incident at Henry Schein impacted its manufacturing and distribution operations, resulting in the compromise of personal information belonging to 29,112 individuals. The attack led to the unauthorized access and potential misuse of bank account information of a number of the company’s U.S. suppliers. Despite the breach, Henry Schein took some of its systems offline to contain the breach, which did not disrupt the practice management software used by their clients.

Following the incident, the company informed employees about the potential exposure of their personal and dependent data, which could include a wide range of sensitive information. The cyber incident also had a financial impact on Henry Schein, leading them to lower their sales expectations for the fiscal year 2023. In response to the incident, Henry Schein offered price discounts to its customers to regain customer trust.



The digital realm is fraught with risks, but understanding these threats and implementing effective cybersecurity measures can mitigate these risks. As the incidents at Change Healthcare, Aspen Dental, MCNA Dental, and Henry Schein demonstrate, the healthcare and dental industries are not immune to cyber attacks. In fact, they are prime targets. Therefore, these sectors must prioritize implementing robust cybersecurity strategies, raising employee awareness, and having a solid incident response plan. This way, they can not only protect sensitive patient data but also maintain operations during a cyber incident.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a class-action lawsuit against Aspen Dental?
Yes, there is a class-action lawsuit against Aspen Dental alleging the sharing of private data with third parties.

What happens if a cyber attack happens?
A cyber attack can result in financial loss, theft of personal information, and damage to reputation and safety. It is important to prioritize cybersecurity to mitigate these risks.

What are the top 3 types of cyber attacks?
The top 3 types of cyber attacks are malware, denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, and phishing. It is essential to be aware of these common threats to protect yourself and your organization.

How can companies protect their networks from cyber attacks?
To protect their networks from cyber attacks, companies should implement a multi-layered security approach, known as defense in depth, which involves overlapping security defenses and proactive measures like strong password policies and automated software updates. This comprehensive cybersecurity strategy helps safeguard networks from potential threats.

What is the role of an incident response plan in managing a cyber attack?
The incident response plan plays a crucial role in effectively managing cyber attacks by providing a structured blueprint for handling critical phases such as preparation, identification, containment, eradication, recovery, and analysis of lessons learned for ongoing improvement.


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