Tuesday, 16 Jul 2024

UC San Diego Awarded $9.5 Million to Enhance Cybersecurity in Health Care

Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have received a $9.5 million grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) to bolster cybersecurity in the healthcare industry. This funding is part of the DIGIHEALS initiative, which aims to protect the US healthcare system from cyber threats. The project will focus on developing strategies to prevent and mitigate ransomware attacks, a type of cyberattack that seeks to extort money from organizations by blocking access to essential computer systems.

The Significance of Cybersecurity in Health Care

Healthcare systems are particularly vulnerable to ransomware attacks, which can have detrimental effects on patient care and pose a significant threat to smaller health systems. That’s why this grant is so crucial in developing protocols to safeguard health systems, especially rural and critical access hospitals. Ultimately, these efforts will improve patient care and enhance healthcare for everyone.

A Center for Healthcare Cybersecurity

This grant has led to the establishment of the Center for Healthcare Cybersecurity at UC San Diego. This new center, supported by the Joan & Irwin Jacobs Center for Health Innovation, enables UC San Diego to maintain its position as a global leader in healthcare cybersecurity. The center, headed by co-principal investigators Christian Dameff, MD, and Jeff Tully, MD, will ensure that UC San Diego remains at the forefront of this critically understudied field for years to come.

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The Increasing Threat of Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks targeting healthcare delivery have become increasingly frequent and sophisticated in recent years. With so many aspects of modern healthcare relying on computer systems, these attacks pose a direct threat to patients’ lives, not just their privacy. The impacts of malware and ransomware extend beyond the digital borders of hospitals, raising concerns about care quality and patient outcomes.

The Costly Consequences

Apart from the risks they pose to patients, ransomware attacks also come with a hefty price tag. According to IBM’s 2023 Cost of a Data Breach report, the average cost incurred by healthcare systems recovering from a cyberattack amounts to $11 million. Smaller systems, unable to absorb such costs, may permanently shut down as a result of a major ransomware attack. This worst-case scenario is especially detrimental to patients in remote areas where alternative healthcare facilities are scarce.

Enhancing Cybersecurity Measures

To tackle these challenges, the researchers will focus on identifying early indicators of cyber threats through simulated ransomware attacks. They will also create and test an emergency healthcare technology platform to ensure the continuity of critical health services in the event of an attack. This platform aims to prevent hospitals from resorting to less efficient pen-and-paper methods, which can slow down healthcare delivery and introduce additional risks to patient safety.

Experts Leading the Way

In addition to Dameff and Tully, the project will benefit from the expertise of cybersecurity specialist Stefan Savage, PhD, who holds the Irwin and Joan Jacobs Chair in Information and Computer Science at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. This collaboration will further reinforce the innovative efforts to combat ransomware attacks and strengthen healthcare cybersecurity.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why are healthcare systems vulnerable to ransomware attacks?

Healthcare systems are highly vulnerable to ransomware attacks because they heavily rely on computerized processes. These attacks can disrupt patient care and pose significant risks to critical health systems, especially in rural areas.

Q: How much does it cost healthcare systems to recover from a ransomware attack?

Recovering from a ransomware attack can be extremely costly for healthcare systems, with the average cost amounting to $11 million, according to IBM’s 2023 Cost of a Data Breach report.

Q: What measures will the researchers take to enhance cybersecurity in healthcare?

The researchers will focus on identifying early indicators of cyber threats through simulated ransomware attacks. They will also develop and test an emergency healthcare technology platform to ensure uninterrupted health services.


Cybersecurity in the healthcare industry is of utmost importance, and the grant awarded to UC San Diego will pave the way for cutting-edge research in this field. By developing effective strategies to prevent and mitigate ransomware attacks, UC San Diego aims to enhance patient care and protect healthcare systems from cyber threats. This initiative is just the beginning of the Center for Healthcare Cybersecurity’s efforts to address the unmet need for cybersecurity in the healthcare sector.

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