Healthcare Cybersecurity: Improvement Strategies & Current Risks

Healthcare - Blog

Businesses are experiencing higher cases of cyber breaches nowadays. The healthcare industry is an attractive target for cyber criminals who may want to compromise their services and also steal patient information.

Due to the high rates of cyber crimes, the healthcare system is always actively looking for ways to increase cybersecurity. With evolving technology embraced by many industries, including healthcare, cyber breaches will always be a concerning issue.

You might wonder why criminals target this industry but the motivation is always similar to other organisations:

  1. Sensitive data the healthcare industry collects and uses.
  2. Lower cybersecurity maturity. 

You might be shocked to find out that patient’s data is priced highly compared to confidential information like credit card details. Such information is then placed for selling on the dark web. Different challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic have led to even more cyber breaches in this industry.

In Australia only, the healthcare industry has recorded the highest number of security breaches. Interesting enough, less than half of these health organisations had cybersecurity policies in place. This is why healthcare providers need to improve their cybersecurity strategy to ensure it mitigates any current cybersecurity risks.

Industry Stakeholders

Just like any other organisation, the healthcare industry has different stakeholders who can impact positively or negatively its cybersecurity.

1. Vendors

Healthcare vendors can expose hospitals to cyber attacks. A vulnerability in a vendor’s system can be exploited by attackers. Hackers can use stolen credentials to compromise healthcare systems.

If your suppliers have weak security policies, you might also be affected by threats. If a vendor’s credentials are stolen, an attacker can have access to your system.

2. Patients

Patients should learn how to keep their information and communications secure. In addition, they should be extra careful with virtual communication since they are exposed to cyber attackers.

Patients should understand the importance of keeping their details private and secure, and avoid posting them in public.

3. Healthcare Workforce

The workforce members are likely to interact with hospitals’ networks and systems. It is also known that users are the most common threat factor for exposing organisations to malicious individuals. Employees should regularly attend cybersecurity awareness training that is essential for an organisation’s cybersecurity posture. They should also be aware of threats and how to mitigate them.

There should be proper procedures that employees should follow when reporting a problem or when asking a question about cybersecurity. Such detailed information will always go a long way in assisting the cybersecurity team to understand the system better and what technology to incorporate to boost security.

Current Cybersecurity Risks and Threats

Common security threats and risks in the healthcare industry usually lead to interrupting business operations or stealing patient’s data. Here are some of the attacks commonly experienced by this industry;

Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks target individual users. They aim at tricking users to disclose sensitive information through opening a malicious attachment or clicking a malicious link.

Although there are different forms of phishing, phishing emails are the most common. However, phishing can also be in the form of voice calls, social media, or website links. Some phishing attacks may target specific individuals in the healthcare organisation. Such attacks are called spear-phishing attacks. As expected, they are more efficient.

Ransomware and Malware

Healthcare organisations use different systems for different functions like smart heating, ventilation, air conditioning system (HVAC), and information systems.

Cybercriminals can target such systems, servers, or medical devices and shut them down, and then demand ransom to decrypt them. Such ransomware demands can also be followed by threats of posting patient data on the dark web which is a violation of privacy.

Physical Insecurity

Although most cyber attacks in health departments may take place online, physical security is an important aspect. This is because physical insecurity bypasses all the techniques put in place to safeguard medical devices, systems, or servers.

A great example is when a criminal obtains access to a computer in a healthcare organisation and misconfigures some security procedures put in place. Although there might have been enough online techniques put in place, the attacker will find loopholes in physical security.

Improving Security Posture in Healthcare

Several strategies can be implemented to safeguard cybersecurity in the healthcare industry. Data breaches have had massive effects including financial losses and sensitive information breaches. Healthcare organisations should take cybersecurity seriously through implementing practices like;

1. Using firewalls

A firewall serves as a gateway for filtering traffic into the internal network. This ensures that malicious traffic is caught just before it makes its way to the internal networks, servers, or systems.

2. Establishing a cybersecurity culture

Users are the leading enablers of most cyber breaches. Establishing a cybersecurity culture in healthcare organisations can assist in combating attacks. It can be done through staff training and education.

Such training will ensure all staff knows that they are also responsible for ensuring the protection and privacy of patient data or any health information.

3. Ensuring anti-virus or End Point Protection (EPP) software is always updated

Many healthcare facilities may have antivirus or even better EPP software, however, the software will not help much if it is not properly configured or sometimes even not updated. Doing this will ensure healthcare systems are well-protected at all times.

4. Using strong passwords and updating them regularly

A high percentage of data breaches occurs through weak password practices such re-using passwords, written passwords, or other harmful habits of storing passwords.

Healthcare organisations should encourage healthy password habits like deploying a password manager for suggesting and storing strong passwords to prevent recycling and sharing.

5. Always having an incident response plan

A plan for an unexpected security incident is called an incident response plan (IRP). Having such a plan will ensure healthcare providers are always ready to act in case of a cybersecurity incident.

Some important aspects of this plan include the process of handling the security incident and steps that will be taken to ensure business operations continuity. It can also indicate how backed-up data will be restored and where it should be stored because it should be away from the main system.

6. Controlled physical access

Cyber criminals can also steal or modify devices physically existing in healthcare units. This is why any device be it a computer or a router should be in a secure area. Healthcare providers should ensure critical devices that could lead to network or system compromise are properly stored.

Co-sharing should be highly avoided. A co-sharing example can be having janitors share a room with devices like routers, which means the room will not be having maximum security.

7. Controlling access to patient information

Hospitals should safeguard patient information as much as possible. Access control should be implemented by employing the principle of least privilege. This principle ensures a user is only granted access to information that they will need for their operations and not all information. If nurses don’t require access to certain records, then don’t give them access to the records.

Having limited individuals dealing with information ensures a certain level of control. Only those who need to use or view data should be granted access. Healthcare organisations should also hire well-trained and skilled informatics professionals.

Cybersecurity Companies like Kaesim have detailed procedures for handling information security in businesses at affordable costs. Cybersecurity is a critical aspect in all organisations and it should be always given the importance it deserves.

How cyber-secure is your business? Find out with our free cybersecurity health check.

It’s a 30 minute Zoom call that walks through a checklist to assess your current cybersecurity levels and provide a short report with some advice and recommendations.

Book your free health check today.

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