Making Healthcare Future‑Ready with Cybersecurity

June 23, 2023 | Virginia Williams
Making Healthcare Future-Ready with Cybersecurity

Meanwhile, the pandemic has also provided the impetus needed to place technologies such as telehealth, and patient portals, at the center stage, with an increasing number of patients accessing their data digitally. Whether it is a provider-to-provider virtual consults, provider to patient virtual visits, use of remote patient monitoring, or virtual telemedicine, the possibilities offered by telehealth seem endless. However, it isn't without its share of roadblocks. With ransomware and other security threats on the rise, disruption in patient care, such as delays in essential surgeries that put healthcare networks into chaos, are challenges that healthcare organizations often grapple with. Often data breaches are triggered by security lapses within the organizations due to the easy access that employees have to patient data. 

Healthcare information is among the most sensitive personal data. Thanks to digital technologies, activities such as online consultations, tele-surgeries, and monitoring patients with real-time updates are already happening.

Healthcare providers find themselves in the front line of cybersecurity battles as privacy of health information, the possibility of misuse of data, and overall data security remain areas of concern. With the healthcare industry rapidly becoming the favorite target for cyber criminals, what are the avenues hackers usually exploit?

  • Phishing attempts and malware: Using emails containing virus induced links and malicious attachments as bait is one of the common strategies used by hackers. Once you enter the confidential information, they can use trojanized software or sophisticated malware to gain access to the computer and compromise its security. 
  • Online medical devices: With the integration of medical devices to software, operating systems, and networking, the risk of cybersecurity vulnerabilities is real. Hackers can gain access and control through connected items as medical devices are an easy entry point. 
  • Unsecured mobile devices: Healthcare providers are increasingly using mobile devices to enhance patient experience and boost employee efficiency, paving the way for hackers looking for access points to get sensitive patient information or clinical data. These technology-enabled forms of patient engagement are often healthcare data breaches waiting to happen. Moreover, theft of devices and data poses a threat to all organizations, including healthcare providers. Loss or malicious use of sensitive information can not only result in business disruption and fines but can compromise patient security. 
  • Staff and vendors: Employees, contractors and vendor organizations hired by the healthcare providers all have easy access to patient files. This means that insiders can steal health or financial data leading to identity theft, fraudulent transactions, or multiple privacy issues and can be easy pathways that hackers and phishers use to get into protected patient information. 

The tipping point is here: Are you ready?

An approach where cybersecurity is front and central is imperative to ensure that healthcare organizations are better positioned to safeguard their digitization. With the advent of cloud-based solutions like Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Microsoft Azure, threats like malware, ransomware, phishing, third parties getting unauthorized access, and remote trojans are all magnified. In such a scenario it's critically important to make use of services such as Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), Encryption, Threat Monitoring, and Identity Management. 

In addition, educating and training the workforce on cybersecurity protocols can be the real differentiator. 

Ensuring the suitable types of backups are made to manage cloud data in a secure manner, implementing stricter device regulations as well as regular software updates, can go a long way in keeping patient data secure. Lastly, it's critical to be on top of regulations like HIPAA, GLBA, PCI DSS and to take all the necessary precautions when entering third-party contracts in terms of roles and responsibilities.

The way forward

Technology is transforming traditional healthcare in ways that are both exciting and alarming. The sensitive nature of personal health data, and the security loopholes existing in the system, make it an appealing target for cyber criminals. Healthcare operators should undertake regularly scheduled cybersecurity assessments to identify vulnerabilities, deploy AI technology where available, and train staff on the importance of cybersecurity to reduce the risk of successful attacks and data breaches — it's a reality that's rapidly evolving as a business imperative for the healthcare industry.