It’s hard to argue against the fact that few sectors of the world’s economy rely on data as much as healthcare. From scheduling to sensitive patient records, there countless amounts of critical data that must be securely protected throughout the healthcare industry. Unfortunately, recent history has proven that hospitals and other healthcare providers are just as susceptible to data breaches as any other company. These breaches have had causes ranging from gross negligence by healthcare providers to vicious ransomware attacks that rendered thousands of patient records unusable throughout the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.
According to Becker’s Health IT Report, healthcare cybersecurity issues cost healthcare systems over $6.2 billion worldwide. As if this isn’t enough to keep hospital executives up at night, approximately 90% of hospitals have reported a significant cybersecurity breach within the last two years.
How to protect healthcare data
Clearly, healthcare cybersecurity is a growing concern throughout the industry. We’ve compiled 10 healthcare cybersecurity tips that can help your institution better protect patient data. While these tips aren’t guaranteed to prevent every cyber-attack, this list is a strong starting point that hopefully helps to strengthen your institution’s defenses.
Tip #1: Install and Maintain a Strong Firewall
When it comes to enterprise-level cybersecurity, implementing a robust and network-wide firewall can allow for a strong first line of defense against possible cyber intruders. While a firewall can’t prevent the numerous access control issues that typically plague healthcare cybersecurity teams and the patient data that they strive to protect, it’s a simple way to limit the ability of possible intruders to gain access to your institution’s intranet network.
Tip #2: Promote Security Through Digital Hygiene
Healthcare providers are accustomed to maintaining strong hygiene habits like washing their hands regularly, wearing gloves, etc. The consistent promotion of these habits throughout healthcare facilities can make it far easier for cybersecurity professionals to promote strong digital hygiene habits to their healthcare-minded colleagues. Whether it be the adoption of strong passwords or a simple two-factor authentication method, these methods are simple to develop and can pay significant dividends with institution-wide security surrounding patient data and records.
Tip #3: Limit Mobile Devices in the Workplace
Across the healthcare industry, electronic health records (EHRs) have been adopted at a feverish pace in recent years. EHR systems can provide many benefits to hospitals and clinics, but they can also lead to serious security issues. Typically, the adoption of an EHR system leads to an increase in the number of mobile devices present on a network. While laptops and tablets allow for the collection of a patient’s medical history, they can also increase the number of ways a patient’s private data can be accessed.
When adding mobile devices to your network, ensure that steps are taken to prevent a patient’s personal data from falling into the wrong hands. Furthermore, ensure that the personal devices of employees – such as smartphones and personal laptops – are unable to access the same network where secure patient data is stored.
Tip #4: Keep Anti-Virus Software Up-To-Date
The installation of robust anti-virus software is one of the oldest preventative cybersecurity methods out there. While it should go without saying, ensuring that anti-virus software is consistently updated across all devices used by your healthcare institution is a commonsense healthcare cybersecurity practice. Mitigate the odds of nefarious software packages from being installed on your company’s devices and network.
Tip #5: Require Strong Employee Passwords
Despite the fact that the importance of strong passwords is often stressed by cybersecurity professionals, in 2018 the most commonly hacked passwords include “Password” and “Qwerty.” Such poor digital security practices don’t cut it when it comes to the high-stakes world of healthcare cybersecurity. Requiring that employees use strong, consistently-changing passwords is of the utmost importance in settings like healthcare, as a breach leading to the release of a patient’s data can mean severe legal consequences for practitioners and their associated institutions.
Tip #6: Control the Access of Sensitive Patient Data
Access control is one of the most significant issues faced in IT-dependent settings, but it can present an even higher risk in the world of healthcare cybersecurity. Hospitals and clinics are busy places with many employees, contractors, and patients moving about each day. It’s imperative that basic access control practices, such as the widespread utilization of employee identification cards and a robust security camera system, are utilized throughout each building.
While a patient or contractor can innocently stumble into an unsecured room, cyber-attacks leveraging basic physical penetration techniques can gain access just as easily if given the opportunity. Sensitive data environments – such as local server rooms – should be secured at a level that’s greater than a traditional hospital environment, as these locations are prime targets for physical penetration hackers.
Tip #7: Undertake Regular Risk Assessments
While this is more of a managerial tip than one explicitly targeted at the unique needs of healthcare cybersecurity professionals, it’s still just as important. Assessing the cyber risks faced by your institution on a regular basis can help your team to proactively defend against probable attack methods, while at the same time strengthening the ability of your team to respond in an effective and timely manner.
Better yet, the implementation of healthcare cybersecurity “tabletop exercises” – where a mock attack is conducted by one team of cybersecurity professionals and must be defended against by another team – can be a meaningful indicator of your organization’s preparedness to defend against novel forms of cyber-attacks. Such exercises are commonplace throughout military and governmental organizations and often lead to stronger teamwork and organizational preparedness when facing legitimate threat situations.
Tip #8: Implement Two-Factor Authentication Whenever Possible
Two-factor authentication methods, such as the use of the increasingly popular YubiKey line of devices, are quickly becoming one of the most widely-used cybersecurity solutions throughout the world. The beauty of a physical two-factor authentication key is that it can be placed on items that employees will always carry, such as a key ring or hospital identification card.
Google has been using two-factor authentication for years now and has famously not suffered from a phishing attack since implementing the practice. If two-factor authentication can help the world’s biggest corporations, it can certainly help to bolster your healthcare cybersecurity plan. Best of all, two-factor authentication keys have become so ubiquitous that outfitting your entire institution with them is now more affordable than ever. Alternatively, there are two-factor authentication methods that can be implemented for very little cost, such as text message authentication or enterprise-friendly two-factor authentication smartphone applications.
Tip #9: Have a Cybersecurity Triage Plan in Place
Hospitals often develop in-depth plans to effectively respond to the large influx of critically injured patients associated with triage situations. Similarly, healthcare cybersecurity professionals should develop a digital triage plan to respond to massive patient data breaches or outages, like those seen by the National Health Service during a widespread ransomware attack. Advanced planning for a “doomsday scenario” could be misconstrued as a paranoid practice. However, having a clear plan in place for the worst-case scenario will mean that your team will be even more prepared to deal with the smaller, everyday healthcare cybersecurity issues faced by healthcare systems.
Tip #10: Regularly Train Healthcare Providers
Regularly scheduled cybersecurity training can go a long way towards educating healthcare providers on how to maintain and interact with patient data properly. In the United States, some of this training can be focused on how healthcare professionals can remain HIPAA compliant in the healthcare sector that is becoming increasingly digitized in nature. Regardless of the regulations that govern healthcare in your area, regular training can help to promote strong cyber hygiene and increase awareness of what signs to look out for when employees suspect that a cyber-attack may be developing.
Protect Patient Data Today
Overall, these tips form a strong starting point for increasing the healthcare security of your institution. As the world of medicine continues to become more and more digitized, the number of threats to the security of your patient data will also increase.
In such a dynamic threat environment, it’s critical that cybersecurity and healthcare professionals alike are on the same page for protecting sensitive medical records entrusted to your institution by the very patients you serve. More importantly, continuing education on the modern cybersecurity threats that face healthcare institutions is of critical importance, as the fast-moving world of information technology ensures that novel methods of attack will always be discovered by cybercriminals looking to access confidential patient information.