The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is warning about the threat to healthcare organizations from advanced persistent threats (APTs) and zero-day exploits (ZDEs).

OCR recently called attention to increased risk from these two cyberthreats. It describes an APT as “a long-term cybersecurity attack that continuously attempts to find and exploit vulnerabilities in a target’s information systems to steal information or disrupt the target’s operations.”

APTs Not Advanced, but Persistent

The APT may not be especially advanced from a technological perspective, but the relentless attack can eventually find a weakness to exploit, and changing tactics can make the overall attack difficult to detect.

“APTs are a serious threat to any information technology (IT) system but especially those that are part of the healthcare field,” according to the report. “APTs have already been implicated in several cyberattacks on the healthcare sector in the U.S. and around the world.”

ZDEs Find Vulnerability

OCR also cautions that ZDEs are “one of the most dangerous tools in a hacker’s arsenal.” This is a type of hacking that takes advantage of a previously unknown hardware, firmware, or software vulnerability before corrections can be made or defenses mounted.

The weaknesses sometimes are discovered by hackers performing their own research, or they may act quickly once an opening is discovered, trying to take advantage before a patch or antivirus solution can be provided to users.

“These exploits are especially dangerous because their novel nature makes them more difficult to detect and contain than standard hacking attacks,” OCR says.

“The possibility of such an attack emphasizes the importance of an organization’s overall security management process which includes monitoring of antivirus or cybersecurity software for detection of suspicious files or activity.”

The full OCR report is available online at: