Jun 27 2024

Microsoft Announces Security Support for Rural Healthcare Organizations

Independent and community hospitals can take advantage of discounts on security products to better protect themselves against a rise in cyberattacks.

To help rural healthcare systems better protect themselves from malicious actors in an age of AI-powered threats, Microsoft, the White House, the American Hospital Association and the National Rural Health Association are teaming up to provide these organizations with the resources they need to strengthen their cybersecurity posture.

The Microsoft Cybersecurity Program for Rural Hospitals will provide hospitals in rural communities with free and low-cost security solutions and services, including free training and support, according to a recent announcement.

No target is off-limits to cyberattackers, including rural healthcare organizations. With fewer resources, independent and community hospitals are often more vulnerable to attacks and less likely to be able to pay a ransom if needed. Supporting rural healthcare organizations is crucial at a time when ransomware attacks on the healthcare sector are rapidly growing; such attacks increased 128 percent from 2022 to 2023.

For independent, Medicare-certified Critical Access Hospitals and Rural Emergency Hospitals specifically, the tech giant will offer its products at nonprofit prices, with up to a 75 percent discount. Larger rural hospitals that are already Microsoft customers using eligible solutions will have one-year, free access to the company’s most sophisticated security suite. Rural healthcare organizations can also take advantage of Windows 10 security updates for at least one year at no cost.

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Additionally, rural hospitals can take advantage of free cybersecurity assessments offered through Microsoft and its partners to help rural healthcare security teams evaluate risks and gaps.

Of respondents who worry about cybersecurity, nearly 50 percent said the majority of their stress is caused by a lack of staff, according to a recent security report from CDW. Staffing and skills shortages have hit rural organizations especially hard because they often don’t have the budgets to compete with larger health systems for security experts. To address this, Microsoft’s new program will provide free cybersecurity training to staff in rural hospitals to increase their ability to handle day-to-day security management at their organization.

“Hospitals and health systems have invested significant resources to guard against cyberattacks, but they can’t do it alone. Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility, and these investments from Microsoft help reinforce that,” said Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association in Microsoft’s announcement. “Rural hospitals are often the primary source of healthcare in their communities, so keeping them open and safe from cyberattacks is critical. We appreciate Microsoft stepping forward to offer its expertise and resources to help secure part of America’s healthcare safety net.”

Anne Neuberger
Rural hospitals are particularly hard hit as they are often the sole source of care for the communities they serve and lack trained cyber staff and modern cyber defenses.”

Anne Neuberger Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technologies, The White House’s National Security Council

The White House is supporting efforts to provide security tools and resources to all rural hospitals across the U.S., serving more than 60 million Americans. The Department of Health and Human Services launched a healthcare cybersecurity gateway website in January to expand access to healthcare-related cybersecurity information and resources. And in May, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health launched the Universal Patching and Remediation for Autonomous Defense (UPGRADE) program to invest more than $50 million in the development of tools to help healthcare security teams better protect healthcare environments.

Anne Neuberger, deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technologies for the White House’s National Security Council, noted in the Microsoft announcement that the volume of cyberattacks in healthcare is “forcing hospitals to cancel procedures and impacting Americans’ access to critical care.”

“Rural hospitals are particularly hard hit as they are often the sole source of care for the communities they serve and lack trained cyber staff and modern cyber defenses,” she continued. “President Biden is committed to every American having access to the care they need, and effective cybersecurity is a part of that. So, we’re excited to work with Microsoft to launch cybersecurity programs that will provide training, advice and technology to help America’s rural hospitals be safe online.”

UP NEXT: Learn how to leverage federal grant programs in newly defined rural communities.

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