Healthcare is a particularly sensitive area when it comes to cybersecurity. In the US alone, over 40 million patient records were compromised in 2021. The breaches happened primarily due to malicious emails containing ransomware, which is a very common attack vector for the healthcare industry.
The following 5 healthcare cybersecurity tips will help to protect your organization in 2022 and beyond. A number of safeguards are needed to prevent your network from being exploited by creative criminals.
#1 – Train employees
Though healthcare organizations will have network-level security as well as numerous other systemic safeguards, employees still need to be trained and a security/privacy/confidentiality mindset must be established.
This is important because any organization or system is only as strong as its weakest link, in this instance a careless staff member. Hackers often target employees with an email phishing attack that contains a fake website that mimics a legitimate site, a link is sent to the employee, and the employee keys in his/her credentials to the fake site. The attacker now has the employee credentials.
This simple attack has worked on countless occasions. Once the attackers have the login credentials to the network they can penetrate further to cause more harm and gain access to sensitive information. Employees need to be trained about this type of attack and must always verify the identity of the person looking for information.
There are many ways to train employees. A 2 hour seminar every couple of months could suffice. Once employees are made aware of the tactics used by cybersecurity professionals, they will become more skeptical and less casual. Most are simply unaware of the level of creativity involved in these attacks.
#2 – Maintain cybersecurity protocols
Unfortunately, most organizations are reactive in terms of cybersecurity. It often takes an expensive data breach before they start tightening up (or go bankrupt). This is the wrong approach to take.
It’s better to be proactive and stay on top of all the latest security protocols by hiring competent professionals who specialize in this area. For larger organizations, it is mandatory to have security professionals and veteran network administrators. Access controls need to be maintained so that staff only have access to files relevant to their work.
If a hacker gets access to an individual account, the account should be updated quickly with a new security password, new account security questions, or through the help of a customer or technical support team so damage is minimal. And access should also be restricted in a more general sense – only those who are trusted and genuinely need access to a file should have it.
Password management is still critical, however. Passwords should be at least 8 characters long with a mix of numbers and special characters and changed every 6 – 12 months for maximum security. Optimum passwords will have a mix of upper and lowercase letters, at least one special character, and one number.
#3 – Plan for the unexpected
Cybercrimes are always unexpected. But this tip relates to natural disasters (fires, earthquakes, tornados, flooding, etc) and other issues as well as crime. Due to the increased number of data breaches in the healthcare industry, it’s critical to have backups in place. Healthcare organizations are particularly susceptible to ransomware attacks, where staff cannot gain access to patient files unless they pay the ransom.
Some client records can go back for decades and contain key information. The ramifications of a cyberattack are pronounced as it might disrupt patient care and may have legal ramifications in terms of court cases and insurance records.
Secure backups allow the records to be accessed quickly and easily. There are two primary mechanisms for storing backups. A physical server can be stored in a location a few miles from the healthcare center. Alternatively, third-party cloud computing services offer secure online storage.
You’ll also want to take out comprehensive insurance in terms of data breaches or loss of information due to disasters.
#4 – Limit network access
Your WiFi router must be secured so that the signal can only be picked up within the office. Limiting network access is a great first point of defense against cybercriminals. Needless to say, networks must also be encrypted to prevent hackers from gaining access. Visitors to the premises should simply be denied network access on mobile devices due to the safety risks posed. Networks can be configured to safely permit guest access, but it can be time-consuming and costly to do so for smaller organizations.
Wired ethernet connections are much safer than wireless connections. It’s also faster than using wireless.
#5 – Maintain strong cybersecurity practices
Many of these have been already listed above in other tips. But to summarize, the following are a list of all the best cybersecurity practices a healthcare center will need to impose:
- Instill a security-focused mindset in the organization.
- Use strong passwords that are regularly updated for all staff (including managers).
- Limit file access.
- Limit network access.
- Limit physical access.
- Plan for the unexpected: have backups at hand.
- Protect mobile devices.
- Maintain good computer habits.
- Use anti-virus software.
- Hire a competent security team/consultant.
All of the above tips need to be implemented in healthcare organizations to stave off the growing number of cyberattacks. They are actually the first line of defense, and maintaining network security is not a one-time process.
Preparing for 2022 and beyond
In addition to the basic cybersecurity tips, there are numerous other security protocols that could be mentioned. But the important takeaway is that you create a robust cybersecurity framework and work on it frequently.
It’s an area that requires proactive input, so even if you do a lot of work this year, the protocols have to be maintained and advanced next year.
Healthcare cybersecurity is an area that requires constant review and frequent upgrades so that client information is kept confidential.
Author Bio: Pranjal Bora works as head of product management at Digital Authority Partners, a San Diego-based web development agency.