Shielding Healthcare Institutions: Strategies to Safeguard Against SEO Poisoning Attacks

by | Jun 24, 2023

As we enter the digital age, cybercriminals are becoming more and more skilled at targeting healthcare organizations to gain access to sensitive patient data, financial information, and even harm patients directly. One particularly insidious method they use is called search engine optimization (SEO) poisoning attacks. These attacks are aimed at people who are searching for healthcare-related information online and can be difficult to detect and prevent. However, there are steps that healthcare entities can take to better prepare for them.

According to the U.S. federal regulators, these types of attacks are on the rise, and healthcare entities need to take measures to better prepare for them. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Sector Cybersecurity Coordination Center recommends upgrading security software and establishing rigorous web filtering procedures, among other measures.

SEO poisoning is a type of malicious advertising that can result in credential theft, malware infections, and financial losses. Attackers often register domain names that are similar to legitimate ones but contain minor spelling errors, hoping that users will not notice the difference. They also use a variety of tactics to boost their search engine rankings, such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, manipulating search ranking by artificially increasing a website’s click-through rate, and using private link networks.

Common SEO poisoning methods include typosquatting, which targets users who accidentally input a website address with a typo or click on a link with a misspelled URL. Some threat actors use targeted types of SEO poisoning, including spear-phishing, to go after specific users, such as IT administrators and other privileged users.

Unfortunately, healthcare entities are becoming a more frequent target for such attacks as the sector continues to become increasingly digitized. Security researchers at BlackBerry reported that they had found SEO poisoning attacks, particularly in the healthcare sector, to be on the rise between December 2022 and February 2023.

To mitigate the risk of these attacks, healthcare organizations can implement typosquatting detection procedures using digital risk monitoring tools. Some anti-malware solutions also block cracks and keygens, which are often used by attackers to distribute malware. It’s also important to train staff on safe browsing practices, phishing awareness, and effective endpoint security measures.

In conclusion, healthcare entities must take proactive measures to prevent SEO poisoning attacks from affecting their patients, financial information, and reputations. By upgrading security software, establishing web filtering procedures, and training staff on safe browsing practices, healthcare organizations can help protect themselves and their patients from these types of attacks. It’s up to all of us to stay vigilant and protect ourselves from these types of cyber threats.