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Software updates to prevent cyberattacks

Software updates to prevent cyberattacks

Software updates are required to prevent cyberattacks by patching vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit. The strategic implementation of software updates becomes a safeguarding mechanism to protect patient information, maintain medical systems' integrity, and build up the confidence of healthcare stakeholders.


Healthcare vulnerability

Healthcare institutions have started relying on software systems to manage patient records, medical devices, billing processes, etc. However, this reliance on technology also exposes them to various cybersecurity risks. Cybercriminals often target healthcare organizations due to their wealth of sensitive information, including personal health records, financial data, and intellectual property.

Moreover, the increase of interconnected medical devices and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) further expands the attack surface, as these devices may run outdated software with known vulnerabilities. This poses a risk to patient confidentiality, the continuity of healthcare services, and patient safety.

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Role of software updates

Software updates, commonly known as patches, serve as the frontline defense against cyber threats. These updates are designed to address identified security vulnerabilities, enhance system performance, and mitigate the risk of exploitation by cybercriminals. By regularly applying software updates, healthcare organizations can:

  • Patch security vulnerabilities: Updates often include patches for known vulnerabilities identified through security research, reported by users, or following a breach. Organizations can promptly apply these patches to block potential entry points for cyber attackers.
  • Enhance data protection: Software updates may introduce new encryption algorithms, security protocols, or access controls, strengthening the overall security posture of healthcare systems and safeguarding patient data from unauthorized access.
  • Ensure regulatory compliance: Compliance with healthcare regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) mandates implementing security measures to protect patient information. Regular software updates help organizations meet these regulatory requirements and avoid costly penalties.
  • Mitigate operational risks: Outdated software is more prone to system crashes, software bugs, and compatibility issues, which can disrupt healthcare operations and compromise patient care. Regular updates help mitigate these operational risks by ensuring system stability and reliability.
  • Stay ahead of emerging threats: Cyber threats evolve rapidly, with attackers developing new techniques to breach defenses. Healthcare organizations can stay ahead of emerging threats and adapt their cybersecurity strategies accordingly by applying software updates.

See alsoHIPAA Compliant Email: The Definitive Guide


Best practices for software update management

  1. Establish a patch management policy: Develop a comprehensive patch management policy outlining roles, responsibilities, and procedures for identifying, testing, and deploying software updates across the organization's IT infrastructure.
  2. Automate patch deployment: Implement automated patch management solutions to streamline detecting, downloading, and deploying software updates, reducing the likelihood of human error and ensuring timely protection against vulnerabilities.
  3. Prioritize critical updates: Prioritize software updates based on severity levels and potential impact on patient safety, confidentiality, and system integrity. 
  4. Conduct regular risk assessments: Perform regular risk assessments and penetration testing to identify potential security weaknesses in healthcare systems and prioritize remediation efforts, including the timely application of software updates.
  5. Educate and train staff: Raise awareness among healthcare staff about the importance of software updates in maintaining a secure computing environment. 



How often should healthcare organizations apply software updates?

Healthcare organizations should apply software updates as soon as they are released, especially critical security patches. Regular updates help mitigate cybersecurity risks and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.


What are the risks of not applying software updates in healthcare?

Not applying software updates in healthcare can pose significant risks, including:

  • Increased susceptibility to cyberattacks and data breaches.
  • System instability, leading to downtime and disruptions in patient care.
  • Non-compliance with healthcare regulations, resulting in potential legal and financial consequences.

Read moreWhat are the consequences of not complying with HIPAA?


What should healthcare professionals do if they encounter issues after applying software updates?

If healthcare professionals encounter issues after applying software updates, they should:

  1. Immediately report the issue to the organization's IT department or security team.
  2. Provide detailed information about the symptoms and circumstances surrounding the issue.
  3. Refrain from attempting to resolve the issue independently to avoid exacerbating the problem.

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