In today’s era of storing patient data and health information in the form of electronic health records (EHR), it has become essential to protect these assets from unauthorized access and use. Cybersecurity healthcare involves protecting patient data from cyber-attacks such as ransomware, data breaches, insider threats, DDoS attacks, frauds, email scams etc. Cyber security healthcare ensures that all data and assets are protected from theft and/or misuse using stringent measures. If the recent statistics are any indication, the threat to healthcare is alarming, to say the least. A recent survey indicates a 16% rise in recovering patient data records in recent years with a whopping 45 million affected individuals.
The electronic health records (EHR) are not the only susceptible data systems that can be compromised; other systems at risk include electronic prescribing systems, patient monitoring devices used remotely, physician order entry systems that are computerized, radiology information systems, and other support management systems. Other systems integral to the hospital infrastructure such as elevators, water pumps, insulin pumps, oxygen supply units, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, infusion pumps among others and other ‘smart’ medical devices are also vulnerable. A collaborative effort among all these elements inclusive of the staff, patients, administrators, suppliers/vendors etc. go into strengthening the cybersecurity of a hospital’s healthcare unit.
Periodic training of the hospital and administrative staff, applying software updates regularly, implementing proven cybersecurity technologies, providing controlled access to systems, using multi factor authentication systems, regularly assessing risks, ensuring in-depth security, planning for an inevitable breach, partnering with right cybersecurity companies, implementing data recovery systems, protecting mobile gadgets, and other IoT devices are some of the ways in which a robust cybersecurity healthcare can be developed.
Insider threats - Insider threats can be of two kinds, intentional that is malicious in nature and unintentional or accidental, of which unintentional ones are easily preventable. An awareness training in cybersecurity measures and regular evaluation will help in alleviating these types of threats. Malicious insider threats occur in the form of misuse of privileges, attacks on application, and stolen or lost assets. It has been observed that insider threats are more frequent and common than external threats.
Human errors - small mistakes by employees/staff themselves can cost dearly to the healthcare institutions. Losing devices, using unsecured wi-fi connections, inserting infected USB devices, inadvertently sharing patient’s information, copying mails to people not involved in the discharge process, retaining confidential information after resignation or termination, misusing privileges or granting access to unauthorized persons are some such examples of human errors.
Ransomware - Healthcare institutions are the main targets of ransomware attacks as they function round-the-clock and, as the nature of their work is critical, they are more willing to pay ransom than most other industries. Usually phishing and malvertising are the sources of ransomware attacks.
Endpoint Security - The more the number of connected devices the more the vulnerability. Due to budgetary constraints healthcare institutions often fail to cover endpoint security resulting in devices being compromised.
Third-party security risks - A number of facilities provided by healthcare are often outsourced to third-party contractors. Some such facilities are catering, payroll management, application and web development etc. These vendors are party to sensitive information and can use it to their advantage if they have malicious intent.
Healthcare professionals and staff were easily the most overworked even before the times of the pandemic. Needless to say, the pandemic has only added to their woes. With work overload, there isn’t sufficient time or money to invest in securing their network or infrastructure, thus becoming sitting ducks to the hackers. Some of the other common reasons, healthcare is targeted are given below:
Personal and private patient information is worth a lot of money - Patient records usually have a lot of information not just of health records of patients but sensitive information such as insurance, financial and banking records etc. Hospitals end up paying ransom money to safeguard patients’ data. Nevertheless, with GDPR in play, it is pivotal for hospitals and healthcare institutions to secure their information.
More entry points in the form of medical devices - Medical devices per se are not at risk as they rarely contain patient data but attackers can use these devices as leverage to attack a server and procure information they want. These devices are easy targets for the hackers as they are not usually secured very well.
Remote accessibility leads to more opportunities - As a number of units function closely to provide a complete healthcare solution, this leads to remote control of a number of functions. Using unsecured networks to access patient records or other information puts them at risk of exposure to cyber-attacks.
Advanced security measures inhibit its use - Simple security protocols such as a multifactor authentication system can be considered time consuming by very busy healthcare workers as it can cause costly delays in administering treatment or consultation or in meeting deadlines. Hence, they are often overlooked, proving costly in the long run. Yet a way can be worked around these issues by simply streamlining and seamlessly integrating security practices into their daily workload.
Insufficient security training to employees and staff - Budget and time constraints are usually the two most common reasons that prevent healthcare workers from being trained on cyber security safe practices. In spite of the fact that cybersecurity solutions can be tricky and complex, their solutions can be simplified. SSO (single sign-on) and MFA (multi factor authentication) are two such examples used extensively these days to strengthen security.
A huge shift has been perceived in the way healthcare institutions are stepping up and tightening their cyber security measures to prevent attacks that have in the past disrupted lives of millions of people. And in the post pandemic era, continuing to do so. All the more reason for the healthcare cybersecurity workforce to align their goals keeping in mind patient privacy as their top priority and balancing it with the requirements of healthcare professionals in terms of their ease of use of various applications, units and other functionalities that go into the working of this mammoth field.
Provide access based on roles - This type of access helps in having control over the objects while providing supervisory access to oversee rules when needed. This helps enormously during emergencies or when unprecedented scenarios present themselves.
Communication from the top - It has been observed that a certain level of seriousness sets in when the rules of risk management come as instructions from the top of the hierarchy and not just from a cyber security professional alone.
Training and educating staff - Conducting surveys and planning training programs for both the clinical and non-clinical staff should be part of an ongoing education program aimed at creating awareness and importance of cyber security.
Regular assessment of vulnerabilities - Routinely conducting scans of systems to spot unpatched areas is a must to assess weak areas and take remedial measures.
Instilling backup systems - Backup systems are crucial in case of cyber-attacks to get the system back online. Some methods are by applying complex security algorithms, geofencing, storing data in different locations, using cloud-based storage which are safe and reliable etc.
Disaster recovery systems - Invest in Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service which ensures minimal downtime. Routine checking of these systems is also important.
Use multifactor authentication - Largely known for its inherent simplicity in usage, MFA is a popular method and almost fool proof method to block all unwarranted automated cyber-attacks.
Protect IoT devices - Multiple use of gadgets such as mobiles, tablets, or other hospital related equipment such as infusion pumps, respirators etc. leave the entire network system at risk. Using risk analysis, zero-trust segmentation, threat intelligence and secured gateways are some of the ways to prevent malicious attacks.
Choose a robust cyber security vendor - In order to create a formidable defense, it is important to partner with a trustworthy and reputable vendor who will be able to design and customize a security plan according to your security requirements in line with the kind of work that takes place in a healthcare environment.
Stolen medical records of patients are of a lot of value for hackers. They use it for their own personal gain by impersonating the patient or using the information for insurance or credit purposes. They also sell it on the darknet for money starting from $1000 and up. Alternatively, they create fake IDs to receive treatment and bill the patient’s insurance company. They may also use it to buy prescription drugs and sell it illegally on the market. If all else fails, they simply hold the hospital to ransom for a tune of millions of dollars in order to retrieve the data. Regardless of what the cyber criminals use the stolen information for, the victim is left dealing with compromised data, lawyer fees, insurance thefts, and end up suffering huge losses.
Security is a big concern for businesses worldwide, more so for the healthcare industry. There are a number of reasons for this, some of the most crucial ones are listed below:
Cloud computing helps store, access, retrieve medical information stored in remote servers across the internet. Usually, these online servers are maintained by IT experts. The healthcare industry now uses cloud computing solutions to store Electronic Medical Records (EMR).
Some of the inherent advantages to using cloud computing are listed below:
The healthcare industry generates massive amounts of digital data ranging from simple prescriptions, insurance claims, lab tests, to EMRs etc. This kind of voluminous data can easily be stored in the cloud and cloud-based analytical tools can then be used to convert it into meaningful information.
Earlier patients had to lug files from one consultation to another for referral purposes. But now with the introduction of cloud-based storage, it has become easy not only for patients but also doctors to check earlier prescriptions, consultations, and other medical records. EMR serves this purpose while being stored on the cloud.
Due to the rise of cloud computing, a number of applications have been developed that help telehealth systems with virtual analysis, video conferencing, and enhance availability of treatment, recovery etc.
It is easy to maintain and access records, lab test reports, prescriptions etc. which enables patients to have real-time access to their own medical information without being subjected to unnecessary retests and evaluations. This helps the patients maintain their health with easily accessible knowledge.
It results in interoperability of all healthcare systems irrespective of the location of the data storage. This helps facilitate smooth and hassle-free healthcare practices.