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Healthcare and cybersecurity

Healthcare and cybersecurity

Healthcare organizations are at risk of cyber attacks due to their reliance on technology and interconnected systems. These attacks compromise sensitive patient data and pose significant risks to patient safety and overall healthcare operations. Healthcare organizations can strengthen their defenses and minimize the risks associated with cyber threats by implementing security measures and understanding vulnerabilities.


Why healthcare organizations are prime targets

Healthcare organizations hold valuable information, making them attractive targets for cybercriminals. Since the consequences of cyber attacks on healthcare facilities can be more severe than typical security breaches, healthcare organizations must understand the vulnerabilities that make them easy targets for cyberattacks.


Unsecured endpoints and devices

Hospitals are filled with a variety of connected devices, creating a host of security challenges. Modern IoT devices, such as wearable monitors, often operate on the same network as older, less secure devices, providing opportunities for cybercriminals to infiltrate sensitive networks. 


Disjointed operational structure

The size and complexity of hospital environments can lead to security vulnerabilities. Hospitals often consist of multiple buildings, each with its own units, wards, and offices. Coordinating security measures between different institutions can be a slow and challenging process, making it easier for security gaps to arise. 


Opportunity to steal valuable research

Medical institutions often house groundbreaking research that takes years and significant resources to develop. This research can hold immense value, making it an attractive target for cybercriminals. Some criminals aim to outpace competitors by stealing research, while others may attempt to ransom or sell it for profit. 


Greater likelihood of ransom

Cyber attacks on healthcare facilities can be disastrous, as downtime can directly impact patient care and risk lives. This makes healthcare organizations more susceptible to ransomware attacks, where cybercriminals encrypt patient records and demand payment for their decryption.


Phishing attacks

Phishing attacks are a common method for cybercriminals to access sensitive data. Hackers trick employees into revealing login credentials or downloading malicious software through deceptive emails. Once inside the network, cybercriminals can exploit the compromised account or device to access sensitive patient data and other critical systems.

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Combatting cyberattacks

Protecting patient data in the healthcare industry requires a proactive and multi-faceted approach to cybersecurity:


Establish a security culture

Creating a culture of security ensures that every employee understands their role in protecting patient data. Regularly train and educate all staff members on the importance of cybersecurity and the potential risks associated with cyber attacks. Emphasize the significance of maintaining strong passwords, recognizing phishing attempts, and following security protocols. 


Protect mobile devices

With the increasing use of mobile devices in healthcare, it is essential to secure these devices to prevent unauthorized access to patient data. Implement encryption on all mobile devices healthcare workers use and ensure they are connected to secure networks. Regularly update software and applications on these devices to address any security vulnerabilities. 


Practice smart computer habits

Educate employees, especially new hires, on best practices for computer use. Train them on identifying and avoiding phishing emails, the importance of regularly updating software and operating systems, and the need to use strong and unique passwords. Regularly remind employees about the risks of visiting unauthorized websites or downloading files from unknown sources.


Install firewalls and antivirus protection

Deploying firewalls and antivirus software monitors network traffic and identifies potential security threats. Regularly update and patch these security solutions to ensure they are equipped with the latest threat intelligence. 


Control access to sensitive information

Implement strict access controls to limit access to sensitive patient data. Ensure that computers and devices are password-protected and automatically lock when not in use. Consider implementing multi-factor authentication for higher-level accounts to add an extra layer of security. Grant access privileges on a need-to-know basis, and regularly review and revoke access for employees who no longer require it.


Create a response plan

Develop a response plan to mitigate the effects of a cyberattack. Regularly back up all critical data and systems to enable quick and easy data restoration in case of an attack. Establish protocols for identifying and neutralizing cyber attacks, including isolating affected systems and blocking malicious traffic. 


Seek external expertise

Conduct regular cybersecurity audits to identify vulnerabilities and areas for improvement. Engage with external IT professionals specializing in cybersecurity to obtain fresh perspectives and insights. These experts can help identify potential gaps in security measures and guide implementing industry best practices.

See also: HIPAA Compliant Email: The Definitive Guide 

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