A recent survey found that over one-third of healthcare organizations worldwide experienced ransomware attacks in 2020. The trend does not show any signs of a slowdown in the near future. The number of victims of healthcare attacks rose from 14 million in 2018 to 45 million in 2021.
Hospitals and healthcare systems are a treasure trove of personal information. While this data plays an important role in the development of clinical trial design and treatment modalities, it also makes them vulnerable to cybercrime.
As healthcare data becomes more readily accessible through digital means, hospitals must prioritize upgrading their outdated infrastructure and implementing robust data security strategies to protect sensitive patient information.
Why is cybersecurity in healthcare a challenge?
Obsolete infrastructure: Obsolete infrastructure in hospitals can have significant implications for cybersecurity in healthcare. Older systems and software may have vulnerabilities that make them easier targets for cyberattacks, as they may lack the latest security features or updates. This can leave sensitive patient information and medical data at risk of being compromised, stolen, or held for ransom by cybercriminals.
Ineffective cybersecurity measures: Outdated infrastructure can also make it more difficult for hospitals to implement effective cybersecurity measures, as legacy systems may not be compatible with newer security solutions or protocols. This can lead to a patchwork of security systems that are difficult to manage and may leave gaps in protection that can be exploited by cybercriminals.
The threat of data breaches: Hospitals and healthcare systems are often the repository of vast amounts of sensitive patient data, making them an attractive target for cyberattacks. Attackers can use various methods like ransomware, malware, and phishing attacks to gain unauthorized access to this data, which can then be sold on the dark web or used for identity theft or other malicious purposes.
Inadequate cybersecurity education: The potential for loss through cyberattacks is compounded by inadequate cybersecurity education among many hospital and health system employees. For instance, a 2019 survey found that only a third of healthcare IT respondents were aware of their organization's cybersecurity policy, and two in five surveyed healthcare workers in North America had no knowledge of cybersecurity measures in place to protect IT devices.
Therefore, it is crucial for hospitals and healthcare systems to prioritize upgrading their infrastructure and implementing robust cybersecurity measures to protect against these threats. This includes regular updates and patches, encryption, network segmentation, employee training, and third-party risk management. By doing so, healthcare providers can better safeguard patient data and protect themselves from the potentially devastating consequences of cyberattacks.
What are the best practices to improve cybersecurity in healthcare?
Cybersecurity is a critical concern for healthcare providers, as sensitive patient information and medical data are often targeted by cybercriminals. Here are some best practices for cybersecurity in healthcare:
- Regularly update software and systems: One of the most important steps healthcare providers can take is to keep their software and systems up to date with the latest patches and updates. This helps to address known vulnerabilities and minimize the risk of attacks.
- Implement access controls: Healthcare providers should limit access to patient data to only those who need it to perform their job duties. This includes implementing strong authentication and authorization protocols and monitoring access logs to detect any unauthorized access attempts.
- Train employees: Human error is one of the leading causes of data breaches in healthcare. Healthcare providers should train their employees on proper cybersecurity practices, including how to identify and report phishing attempts, password hygiene, and data handling procedures.
- Encrypt data: Encrypting sensitive patient data helps to protect it in the event of a breach or unauthorized access. Healthcare providers should use strong encryption protocols to protect data at rest and in transit.
- Conduct regular risk assessments: Healthcare providers should conduct regular risk assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities and threats to their systems and data. This can help them to proactively address potential issues before they can be exploited.
- Have a response plan in place: Despite best efforts, breaches can still occur. Healthcare providers should have a response plan in place that outlines the steps to be taken in the event of a breach, including who to contact and how to mitigate the damage.
- Maintain cybersecurity compliance: Healthcare organizations prioritize cybersecurity by adopting standards and frameworks and ensuring compliance. System and Organization Controls (SOC) and Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST) are examples of standards that safeguard the confidentiality and privacy of the data managed.
By implementing these best practices, healthcare providers can better protect their systems and data from cyber threats, safeguard sensitive patient information, and maintain the trust of their patients.
Given the increasing frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks and malware, adopting modern IT infrastructure is becoming increasingly important. Neglecting critical software updates and cybersecurity education can harm the quality of care and erode patients' trust in the healthcare industry. Healthcare organizations that enhance their information security posture will be better equipped to improve outcomes, avoid financially catastrophic outages, and lead the industry in leveraging clinical data for crucial innovation.
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