Day in and day out, the healthcare industry attends to countless patients. These patients are tested and given tests, recommendations, medicine, and treatments to improve their health. They are also categorized and organized by their data, routinely collected for medical appointments and patient intake procedures.
Once this data is collected, it’s stored for future use by the doctors and hospital staff. Unfortunately, patient data is becoming increasingly desirable for hackers. So, what can be done to improve healthcare information security as well as the secure operation of the medical community? Let’s explore some of the better cybersecurity measures that are available.
What Cybersecurity Threats Are the Primary Concerns for Healthcare and Medical Facilities?
The healthcare industry has come to rely heavily on technology to manage patient data and assist virtually every piece of electronic equipment in a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office. Because of this dependence, certain aspects of medical technology have developed blind spots to cyber attacks.
From a hacker’s or cyber criminal’s point of view, these various electronic devices, databases, and networks all represent entry points for a large-scale data breach. The pathway into a medical database may appear to be secure, but a portable device for managing patient vitals can represent a side door entryway no one is watching.
Once cybercriminals gain access, they can drain chunks of confidential patient data. They can also target certain patients or doctors for extortion, and even severely disrupt a hospital’s daily operation entirely.
When hackers or cybercriminals gain access to an organization’s network and databases, they have gained a powerful leveraging tool. Most can encrypt the organization’s data or access codes, locking out the targeted organization’s users from networks and databases. These hostile takeovers also restrict the use of life-saving equipment.
Retrieving personal information and regaining control of hacked systems are vital for organizations to move forward. By using ransomware successfully, hackers can keep organizations powerless until they pay up.
Most healthcare organizations are large and employ numerous employees. Email communication, texting and social media messaging are prevalent and ongoing. When a phishing email is received, it’s easy for it to become lost in the shuffle or opened by accident. Once released, the malware it contains begins operating, picking out vital data or determining areas of entry with reduced security.
Also called man-in-the-middle attacks, cybercriminals look for data transfers or ongoing messages as entry points. Once they’ve inserted themselves into a network, they can gain additional access and steal data from the database.
Threats to Network Vulnerabilities
Some of the medical community’s most vulnerable yet widely-used systems are wired and wireless communication networks. Patient information and interoffice communications are regularly routed through these networks. By developing malware that focuses on these systems, cybercriminals can gain access to so much more.
Why Is the Healthcare Industry One of the Most Attractive Targets for Cybercriminals?
Names, birth dates, social security numbers, addresses, family relations, medical histories and sensitive data about current health conditions are all standard fields on most healthcare forms. Patient information is collected, accessed, and stored every day. Additionally, there are many interconnected systems and networks within the medical communities throughout the country.
For these reasons, hackers and cybercriminals have come to fixate on the potential for long-term patient data mining and ransom payments hospitals must pay to resume operation. With such an enormous client pool and lives on the line, hospitals and medical organizations have little choice but to protect patients and succumb to criminal demands.
Patients’ Confidential Data Is Worth a Great Deal of Money
Whether collecting data for identity theft or financial gain, personal information has long been a commodity in cybercrime. Add to this list confidential medical information, and patients far and wide risk having their personal information exploited or leveraged against them. Cybercriminals understand that the incentives to collect and barter this information on the dark web are also growing daily.
Medical Devices Open Up Easy Entry Points for the Attackers
As mentioned earlier, a great deal of medical technology is interconnected to help expedite patient care. This networking is helpful for treating and processing patients, but creates multiple entry points for hackers.
Every electronic device, machine processing or relaying information is a potential threat to security. But since medical care must be agile and quick to respond in order to save lives, security measures that may slow down operation may be removed or disabled. Hackers are also becoming more capable of finding alternate routes to the information they’re looking for, so security has to become faster and more effective.
Lack of Expertise in Healthcare Professionals to Identify Online Threats
Doctors, nurses, and medical staff are trained to perform various procedures and tasks to help save lives. They’re not usually taught to identify phishing scams or more sophisticated domain spoofing attempts. Their specialty is healthcare, not healthcare information security.
As medical professionals treat and process patients, they may not have the time to ensure that they haven’t opened a compromising email by mistake.
To better prepare a medical team for the ever-evolving cyber world, more resources must be allocated to training staff to identify cyber threats.
Outdated Technological Practices Make the Healthcare Industry Unprepared for Attacks
Although advancements in medical technology seem to build exponentially on themselves, much of the supporting technology in medicine is not as new or updated. Outdated computer networking security requirements and software, and convenient workarounds leave organizations vulnerable to cyber threats.
Healthcare-related Information is Usually Open and Shareable
Since patients are the primary focus, medical professionals must quickly access and share patient data among them. Understandably, the speed of medical care relies on data transfer. Leaving patient data so unprotected creates a dangerous risk.
What Can Healthcare Institutions Do to Prioritize Cybersecurity?
To improve overall patient and institutional practices, healthcare organizations must address the cyber threats they are currently facing and be knowledgeable about what to expect in the coming years. Advanced preparation and continued educational practices are key to gaining the upper hand.
Training of Personnel
Each healthcare team member, from doctors to administrative staff, must undergo cyber threat training. Best practices in the workplace must be promoted, and the importance of remaining diligent about emerging technological threats must be stressed. Not everyone is a natural tech guru, but it is possible to develop a strong culture of cyber knowledge by offering proper education.
Implementing Advanced Systems to Control Data Usage
Since data sharing is one of the weak spots in the medical field in relation to cybercrime, it’s necessary to implement systems that monitor and manage data usage. These systems will also work to identify threats based on AI algorithms and chatter on the dark web.
Additionally, organizations should use more advanced credential identification and data storage systems. Data should be encrypted and backed up, and IT personnel or a cyber security company should perform regular scans for malware, looking for vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can exploit to infiltrate systems and networks.
Monitoring of Connected Devices
Mobile and medical devices used with patients should be equipped with updated cybersecurity monitoring systems. Monitoring the actions on mobile devices and equipment can help identify malware as it attempts to connect with networks through these devices.
For instance, a device receiving or sending more data can signify a cyber breach. Updating software, using stronger identification methods, and creating separate networks for devices used frequently are some options for increasing security.
How Can ACID Help in Proactively Detecting Cyber Threats?
Healthcare organizations are facing risks of cybercrime more than ever before. Cybercriminals are doubling down on efforts to disrupt and profit, whether through a breach of patient data or a ransomware attack that will hold a hospital or other healthcare facility hostage.
ACID strives to minimize risks by monitoring multiple platforms and sources to detect early signs of planned attacks through various entry points, including medical equipment and mobile devices. When threats are proactively detected and the targeted organization alerted, it can implement effective countermeasures to prevent the attack or mitigate its consequences. It thus greatly increases its chances of uninterrupted, secure operation and keeping sensitive data safe.
With so many emerging threats to data and privacy emanating from cyberspace, it’s vital to protect organizational assets from all sides. Training for personnel and improved best practices for communicating and working on the Internet are important initial steps.
Since most healthcare institutions are focused on patients first, it’s best to leave the remaining issues of healthcare information security to the professionals. ACID’s proactive approach and its real-time, informed alerts will help elevate the level of security of your healthcare organization.