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5 Things Dentists Need to Know about Malware and Cyber Attacks

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In an era of increasingly sophisticated attacks with an evolving threat landscape, hackers have found ways to circumvent basic anti-virus and firewall protections, forcing small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) like dental practices to reassess their security tools and resources. 

In my time as Chief Technology Officer at WatchGuard Technologies, a Henry Schein TechCentral partner, I have come across several common misconceptions many SMBs have about the threat landscape and network security.

Here are 5 things dentists need to know in order to help protect their practice:

1. “Legacy” security protections may no longer be enough to prevent a targeted attack.

A firewall is usually adequate at protecting against specific types of network traffic you don’t want, but what about threats in necessary web traffic? Most dental practices need to allow internet access to websites and services for day-to-day business operations and unfortunately, malicious activity can be found there as well. This is why small businesses may need advanced security controls that specifically look for malicious activity in the traffic they do allow, such as web email activity. A legacy firewall alone most likely won’t cut it.

Same goes for antivirus (AV). Legacy AV products do provide some value by reactively blocking malware that the security industry is already aware of. However, because malware evolves so quickly you also need modern advanced malware detection security services that will proactively identify brand-new malware as well. Otherwise, you might miss that new threat.

In my experience, if small businesses don’t outsource some of their technical services, including security, they often fall behind and become targets for hackers. You have to have good security even though it’s not your business to do it. The best solution is to partner with a service like Henry Schein TechCentral that can handle the security for you. They have the experience to perform a complementary network assessment to identify the layers of security that weren’t needed 10 years ago.

2. Small businesses—not large corporations—often times are more attractive because they draw less attention.

Many cyber criminals are focusing on ransomware attacks that amount to less than $5,000. If the ransom is low enough and seems within reach, the dentist may be tempted to “give in” and pay the ransom to regain control of their data. Also, chances are the FBI won’t get involved and local police often don’t have the resources to investigate such a crime.

Large companies usually have better security and hackers run the risk of attracting an immediate and large-scale investigation if they attempt to breach them. There’s also a time factor, as it could take days to hack a large company, whereas a small business hack could take just a few minutes to execute. Once they get data like social security numbers, hackers can open an account in your patient’s name and begin stealing money.

Even with a simple email address, hackers can start to spam patients with messages based on the patient’s last visit. For instance, maybe your patient got their teeth whitened, so the hacker might be able to customize an email using specific information that tricks the patient into giving up more personal information. The point is, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re not a target because you are small. You have sensitive data a hacker wants, and you might even be easier to hack.

3. Not every attack is targeted; some are opportunistic.

While many attackers specifically target small business, some hackers opportunistically target the whole world, trying to “automatically” hack any computer that connects online. They do so using botnets. Using automated tools that scan most internet-connected computers to look for vulnerabilities, hackers known as “bot herders” can opportunistically infect many computers. Their goal is to take over as many victims as they can to participate in a “botnet.” Once they’ve infected your computer with a bot trojan, they have complete control of it and can use it for many malicious activities. For example, they can leverage the power of their botnet to direct hundreds of thousands of infected computers to flood any website, including your practice’s site, so that none of your patients can access it. They could use infected computers to spam email to others. They might even hide their future attacks by carrying them out from bot-infected machines, thus masking their digital path and their own identity.

Finally, bot herders can also grab any data off an infected computer they want, including patient data. While sensitive data theft may not be an opportunistic attacker’s primary objective, they may still go back to infected computers to see if they got lucky. While they may not have been setting out to target your dental practice, once they found they’ve infected a machine with valuable data, they’ll still take advantage of it. In short, bot herders usually take over computers just for the resource itself, but the smart ones will still go back and look at who they have hacked.

4. Dental practices can become the weak link in the larger security chain.

As a business, you probably don’t work alone; you rely on the services of other businesses. Some of these businesses may have technical back ends with digital supply chain setups. If their system has been compromised, your patient data could be exposed. This works both ways because a dental practices that has been hacked can expose larger businesses to a vulnerability as well.

For example, the infamous Target data breach began with a vendor payment portal. A HVAC company’s credentials were hacked, allowing the criminals to gain access to the portal where they found a weakness that allowed them to access Target’s customer data. This could happen in any industry whenever there’s an exchange in the digital supply chain.

If you’re a large practice that invests a lot in security, some of your smaller providers may be some of your weaker links. Meanwhile, if you’re just a small practice, you may be the weaker link into a bigger breach.

5. Protecting your practice doesn’t have to be complicated.

Navigating several different types of security layers, getting them all to work together, installing and configuring them properly, and managing them without an IT staff member is enough to frustrate any dental business owner because you are trying to focus on dentistry. Fortunately, there’s a streamlined solution in WatchGuard’s Firebox, available through Henry Schein TechCentral.

The Firebox offers many layers of security; an application-layer firewall, an intrusion prevention system (IPS), both normal and advanced malware prevention or antivirus, web content and security filters, antispam capabilities, data loss prevention, and much more. All of these layers can help small business owners survive in today’s environment.

We’ve made it easier for SMBs and service partners to take the complexity of multi-layered security and put it in a package that you can actually consume both from a price point and from an ease-of-use standpoint.

Learn more about dental practice security and schedule a free network assessment performed by a TechCentral technology professional who will evaluate your networks, servers, firewall, and more. Call 844.206.1228 or visit to schedule your assessment today.

About Corey Nachreiner 

As CTO at WatchGuard Technologies, Corey regularly contributes to security publications and speaks internationally at leading industry trade shows like RSA. He has written thousands of security alerts and educational articles, and is the primary contributor to the Secplicity Community, which provides daily videos and content on the latest security threats, news and best practices. A Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Corey enjoys "modding" any technical gizmo he can get his hands on and considers himself a hacker in the old sense of the word.

©2017 Henry Schein Inc. All rights reserved. The Firebox product described above is made by WatchGuard and the description of the capabilities and features of Firebox is that of WatchGuard alone. Henry Schein Inc. and its affiliates make no guarantee of the performance of Firebox and are not responsible for, and expressly disclaim, all liability for damages of any kind arising from the use of Firebox.

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