how to develop a healthcare cybersecurity plan to protect data

Since the inception of information technology, there have been two groups fighting for control – the hackers trying to steal critical data and those trying to fight off such attacks. While many professionals recall the image of a classic hacker typing away at their computer terminal to break through a company’s defenses, when discussing cybersecurity, the reality of enterprise security is no longer this cut and dry.

In fact, large enterprises and corporations now face a seemingly endless list of threats when it comes to protecting the integrity of their firm’s data, ranging from access control issues and physical penetration attacks to the pervasive issues presented by ransomware and phishing schemes. While these issues affect every industry, few have the potential to be as negatively impacted by a data breach as the hospitals, clinics, and supporting firms that make up the healthcare sector.

Thanks to extremely high standards for how to handle confidential patient data (with HIPAA in the United States the most classic example of such regulation), healthcare providers must ensure they take extra steps to avoid falling victim to a data breach or other form of healthcare cybersecurity attack.

Let’s lay out a framework for how your organization and IT team can go about establishing proactive data security habits that could ultimately help to prevent the tremendous damage caused by the loss or theft of confidential patient information.

360 business security assessment by source 1 solutions

Define the Objective of Your Data Security Team

data breach plan for healthcare facilities using enterprise-level security team

Without a clear objective, it can be hard to determine the best directions to take when outlining an approach for handling data security protections. For organizations dealing with patient data, it’s likely the primary objective will be to maintain compliance with the laws and regulation of your region, whether it be HIPAA in the United States, GDPR in Europe, or one of the many other regulatory regimes currently in place.

Outside of maintaining regulatory compliance, define an objective that’s more applicable to your specific organization. This can not only help to put the role of the data protection or healthcare cybersecurity team into an everyday context but can provide a far greater sense of mission than any regulatory compliance effort ever could.


Determine Roles and Responsibilities Throughout Your Organization

Before getting into the finer details of a data protection plan, it’s important to first clearly define the roles, responsibilities, and expectations for every member of your IT or healthcare cybersecurity team. Much like how the military has a clear chain of command, each data protection team member from C-suite management to entry-level technicians must fully understand their role.

After the role of each team member is defined and there is a clear protocol for team-wide communication and decision-making in place, an organization is free to reflect in greater detail on the needed requirements for their data protection plan.


Identify Your Organization’s Data Protection Risks

Identifying risks is a critical step on the road to creating the appropriate healthcare cybersecurity plan for your organization. While it might be easy to prescribe a set of overarching threats and risks that are likely to affect most healthcare institutions, it’s essential to understand that the threat dynamics experienced by every hospital and clinic are unique.

Whereas one hospital may have glaring deficiencies when it comes to patient data access control, another might be dealing with an IT infrastructure that’s so outdated it proves nearly impossible to defend effectively. Unfortunately, there isn’t a sure-fire, one-size-fits-all solution for healthcare cybersecurity teams to implement. Instead, conduct a thorough audit to determine which areas to focus on to ensure confidential patient data is appropriately protected.


Revisit Data Storage Requirements

Modern advances in information technology have allowed for a set of new storage solutions – including remote cloud storage hosted by companies like Amazon Web Services and incredibly affordable in-house servers – to drastically change how firms approach data storage. This is a natural extension of most healthcare cybersecurity audits.

Within the context of health data protection plans, it’s important to keep a few factors in mind. One, ensuring that a reliable backup of confidential patient data will provide the best insurance policy for most organizations. Two, diligently research an enterprise-level storage solution you choose to adopt as ensuring regulatory compliance is of utmost importance for healthcare institutions.


Ensure Data Integrity Through Access Control

enterprise level access control security for data integrity in healthcare industry

The final (and possibly most important) aspect to developing an effective data protection plan is to ensure that strong access control measures are in place throughout your organizations physical and IT-based infrastructure. Throughout the healthcare cybersecurity industry, it’s understood that one of the weakest links in a data protection program is the human nature of participating employees. Horror stories abound of doctors being able to walk away with once-private patient data and the incorrect contractors receiving confidential files by mistake.

Such data breaches are not only the most embarrassing of mishaps but more importantly the most preventable healthcare cybersecurity breaches found throughout the industry today. For those hoping to limit the chances of access control negatively affecting the security of your organization’s confidential data, regularly training employees who have access to patient data is an affordable (and likely the most effective) deterrent.

Employees, contractors, managers, and every member of the company represent the company’s internal users. Internal users will have the most direct access to secure systems by doing their assigned functions. Remember that system users must be granted rights based on the work they perform.

  • The ability to circumvent weak security rules can embolden the unethical use of company systems to defraud customers and the business causing financial harm.
  • Failure to implement consistent security permissions across users and departments may allow users to unintentionally use third-party software, which could introduce vulnerabilities and security breaches.
  • Poor compliance adherence can be the single biggest threat to access control security as it typically results in preventable security holes from being blocked simply because the user is not following procedure.
  • Access control security that’s too strict could be the most significant factor cited in reduced productivity if your workforce is unable to acquire the company resources needed to complete time-sensitive work quickly.


Ready to Face Cybersecurity Challenges?

In 2016, Protenus collaborated with DataBreaches.net to analyze data from the Health and Human Services breach reporting tool, finding an average of 37 attacks for each month of the year – well enough to account for one or more breaches each day, every day of the year. Surprisingly, insiders were responsible for more than 40 percent of the incidents.

“43% of the 2016 health data breaches (192 incidents) were a result of insiders. For the 162 incidents for which we have more detailed numbers, 2,000,262 patient records were affected. For the purpose of our analyses, we characterized insider incidents as either insider-error or insider-wrongdoing. The former included accidents and anything without malicious intent that could be categorized as “human error.” Insider-wrongdoing included employee theft of information, snooping in patient files, and other cases where employees appeared to have knowingly violated the law.


99 of these incidents were a result of an insider-error or accident, while 91 incidents were a result of wrongdoing. In two cases, there was insufficient information to determine whether the incidents should be coded as error or wrongdoing.”


There’s no shortage of obstacles to implementing best-practices in today’s data-intensive industry. No system is ever 100% secure as we’re all capable of human error in anything we do, so the most secure system can only be as strong as the most undisciplined user. Whether training, awareness, or education is at fault of a cyber breach, the users of a system can represent the greatest threat.

Source 1 Solutions understands the needs of cybersecurity in healthcare. We implore you to start the process of developing a data protection plan as soon as possible, as every day that a healthcare cybersecurity program isn’t in place is a day that critical patient information could be at risk. With unique challenges and regulatory requirements, we design customized solutions to address complex safety issues and facility architecture. Patient security and safety is our priority. We’ll complete a detailed 360° Security Assessment to engineer a perfect design for every room of the hospital or healthcare facility.

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