Economic impact of a hospital cyberattack in a national health system: Descriptive case study

Diana Portela, Diogo Nogueira-Leite, Rafael Almeida, Ricardo Cruz-Correia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Over the last decade, the frequency and size of cyberattacks in the health care industry have increased, ranging from breaches of processes or networks to encryption of files that restrict access to data. These attacks may have multiple consequences for patient safety, as they can, for example, target electronic health records, access to critical information, and support for critical systems, thereby causing delays in hospital activities. The effects of cybersecurity breaches are not only a threat to patients’ lives but also have financial consequences due to causing inactivity in health care systems. However, publicly available information on these incidents quantifying their impact is scarce. Objective: We aim, while using public domain data from Portugal, to (1) identify data breaches in the public national health system since 2017 and (2) measure the economic impact using a hypothesized scenario as a case study. Methods: We retrieved data from multiple national and local media sources on cybersecurity from 2017 until 2022 and built a timeline of attacks. In the absence of public information on cyberattacks, reported drops in activity were estimated using a hypothesized scenario for affected resources and percentages and duration of inactivity. Only direct costs were considered for estimates. Data for estimates were produced based on planned activity through the hospital contract program. We use sensitivity analysis to illustrate how a midlevel ransomware attack might impact health institutions’ daily costs (inferring a potential range of values based on assumptions). Given the heterogeneity of our included parameters, we also provide a tool for users to distinguish such impacts of different attacks on institutions according to different contract programs, served population size, and proportion of inactivity. Results: From 2017 to 2022, we were able to identify 6 incidents in Portuguese public hospitals using public domain data (there was 1 incident each year and 2 in 2018). Financial impacts were obtained from a cost point of view, where estimated values have a minimum-to-maximum range of €115,882.96 to €2,317,659.11 (a currency exchange rate of €1=US $1.0233 is applicable). Costs of this range and magnitude were inferred assuming different percentages of affected resources and with different numbers of working days while considering the costs of external consultation, hospitalization, and use of in- and outpatient clinics and emergency rooms, for a maximum of 5 working days. Conclusions: To enhance cybersecurity capabilities at hospitals, it is important to provide robust information to support decision-making. Our study provides valuable information and preliminary insights that can help health care organizations better understand the costs and risks associated with cyber threats and improve their cybersecurity strategies. Additionally, it demonstrates the importance of adopting effective preventive and reactive strategies, such as contingency plans, as well as enhanced investment in improving cybersecurity capabilities in this critical area while aiming to achieve cyber-resilience.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere41738
JournalJMIR Formative Research
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • cost
  • cyberattack
  • cybersecurity
  • data breach
  • economic
  • economic impact
  • health system
  • medical informatics
  • privacy
  • security


Dive into the research topics of 'Economic impact of a hospital cyberattack in a national health system: Descriptive case study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this