How to Protect Healthcare Data From Cyber Attacks?

3 years ago

Healthcare startups, enterprises, and providers are soft targets of hackers or intruders. 

Hospitals alone account for almost 30% of all large data breaches and more than 2100 large-scale data breaches have been reported in the USA since 2009.  

In 2015, in the biggest healthcare data breach, hackers had stolen 78.8 million patient records which included very sensitive information. 

So, you must be wondering, 

Why is healthcare the most vulnerable to cyber attacks? 

The threat is real. The entire healthcare industry is at risk as everything is interconnected. 

Healthcare entities are increasing the spending on cybersecurity but with a new challenge popping up every day, it’s difficult to cope up. 

The following are the top reasons why healthcare remains always on the radar of hackers. 

  • Value of the data

Hospitals and every medical entity save, use and share very crucial data of the patients. 

This information is very valuable because it includes contact, personal, biometric and even financial information of the patients. 

So, if a hacker breaches the hospital data, it gets the most valuable data from one source only. 

  • Many easy entry points

There are multiple medical devices, mobile devices and medical software - easing clinical operations in the hospital and healthcare entities - are connected to the hospital & personal network which results in multiple endpoints. 

And the more endpoints mean more entry points for hackers and with more entry points, there are higher chances that they can get easy access to medical data. 

  • Staff’s lack of awareness around cybersecurity

It is very obvious. Healthcare workers are not security experts. They don’t know how their one wrong click can put very important patient data at risk.

Thus, many healthcare organizations have recently launched cyber awareness programs for their staff members.  

However, budget, resources and time constraints do not allow every healthcare entity to run such programs. 

  • Shareable healthcare data

In the healthcare industry, healthcare providers share patient data with other healthcare providers for providing quality care. 

For instance, the lab needs to share the patients’ data with the clinic in order to let them know the lab result. 

And this makes it easy for intruders to steal the data because the data is at the highest risk while transmitting! 

  • Easy phishing attacks

Phishing is the most popular and easiest type of cyber attack

In a phishing attack, the hacker creates the replica of a reputable website and the moment the user fills in details on that fake digital medium, the hackers get all login information and from here - it is an easy game for him

In the healthcare industry where healthcare professionals are always overwhelmed and exhausted, they generally do not double-check before accessing any website. 

And this way, users unknowingly share the credentials with the hackers. 

How to protect healthcare data from cyber attacks?: Healthcare data security best practices  

All it takes is a well-structured and executed healthcare compliance strategy. 

Because, if you become compliant with the healthcare data privacy laws, you are automatically making your data private and secure enough. 

And since it is the law, you also become not liable for any violation penalty. 

The following are the top data privacy measures suggested by the healthcare data privacy law - HIPAA. 

Technical measures: 

  • Encrypt the data of patients once it leaves your internal firewalled servers. 
  • Assign a centrally-controlled unique username and PIN code for each patient or use on a digital system. 
  • Catch the attempt made by even registered users to access the personal information of patients. 
  • Deploy role-based access control to not let everyone get access to medical data. 
  • Keep confirming whether the data is destroyed or altered. 
  • Automatically log off users from devices they are using for accessing the personal data of patients. 
  • Keep separate WiFi for guests. 
  • Use endpoint security software. 
  • Keep monitoring the network and invest in an intrusion detection system to detect the hacking attempt during the initial phase. 
  • Have a mechanism that helps you know what has been done with data once it has been accessed.

Physical measures:

  • Have control over who has physical access to the location where the data of patients is stored. 
  • Implement policies for your internal staff’s workstations that do have access to the personal data of patients or users. 
  • There should be a policy to wipe out data from your staff members’ personal devices. 
  • Maintain the inventory of every piece of hardware including the pen drive which has the access to personal information of patients. 
  • Implement clean-desk-policy. 

Administrative measures:

  • Assign a security officer or privacy officer. 
  • Develop contingency plans to continue business operations during emergencies while keeping data safe. 
  • Don’t let your business partners get access to the data you store unless you sign the business associate agreement (BAA). 
  • Educate your staff members regarding cybersecurity. 

By following all such measures, healthcare organizations won’t only protect data but also be compliant with data privacy laws. 

How to make sure a healthcare organization is secure? 

Imagine you have followed all regulations of healthcare data privacy laws and implemented all measures, but how would you make sure that there is no privacy issue or security vulnerabilities in your organization. 

To validate that your healthcare organization does not have any security vulnerabilities, you have to carry out PIA and TRA. 

Here, it is worth mentioning that PIA and TRA both are different things. 

PIA known as Privacy Impact Assessment is all about identifying privacy issues within the entire organization. 

Whereas TRA known as Threat and Risk Assessment is all about identifying privacy issues within the digital solution such as medical software, app etc. 

Once you know the privacy issues which work as the easy entry gate for the intruders, you can fix the issues and make the entire organization secure. 

Read our case study to know the complete process of how to carry out PIA to be compliant with data privacy laws and protect healthcare data from cyber attacks. 

Read the entire case study here