In 2023, the healthcare industry experienced more ransomware attacks than any other critical infrastructure sector, according to FBI statistics. This trend indicates an increased targeting of hospitals by hackers.

Data from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reveals that ransomware-associated cyberattacks against the healthcare sector surged by over 130% in the past year.

Approximately 1,800 rural community hospitals in the U.S. are among the most vulnerable to ransomware attacks. These hospitals often lack IT security resources and trained cybersecurity personnel.

To address this issue, Microsoft has introduced a new cybersecurity initiative aimed at helping rural hospitals bolster their information security measures. According to a Monday announcement from the company, it will offer these hospitals free and low-cost technological services, as well as free assistance and training.

Microsoft stated that it is collaborating with the White House, the National Rural Health Association, and the American Hospital Association to ensure the program’s effective implementation and adoption.

Justin Spelhaug, CVP of Microsoft Philanthropies, stated, “Healthcare should be available no matter where you call home, and the rise in cyberattacks threatens the viability of rural hospitals and impacts communities across the U.S. Microsoft is committed to delivering vital technology security and support at a time when these rural hospitals need them most.”

Microsoft also revealed that it would offer generous rates and discounts for its security solutions optimized for smaller organizations, providing rebates of up to 75% for rural emergency hospitals and critical access facilities.

Additionally, the company will provide its most advanced security suite at no cost for one year to some major rural hospitals currently using eligible Microsoft technologies. As an extra component of the new program, Microsoft is also offering free security updates for Windows 10 for a year to the participating rural facilities.

Furthermore, Microsoft will conduct free cybersecurity assessments through its trusted partners to identify risks and gaps. This will be complemented by free cybersecurity training for staff members in remote hospitals to help them better manage the day-to-day protection of their electronic systems.

Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association, remarked that rural hospitals face significant cybersecurity challenges due to limited resources and the growing complexity of cyber threats, which jeopardize patient data and essential healthcare infrastructure. He noted that the partnership with Microsoft would help rural hospitals become better equipped to tackle these increasing threats in the future.

Anne Neuberger, a prominent security advisor, pointed out that rural hospitals are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks because they often serve as the sole healthcare providers for their communities and typically lack trained cybersecurity staff and modern defenses. She added that the collaboration with Microsoft will significantly enhance the online protection of rural hospitals across the country.

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