Healthcare Information Security: How To Protect Patients’ Data

The healthcare sector is much like any other organization; however, it is the limited understanding of compounding threats of malware, hackers, and supply chain problems within the industry, that makes it susceptible to astronomical risk.

Within a day, there is a considerable exchange of patient data in the way of electronic health records, sign-in processes, credit card information, biometric confirmation, etc. All this information is stored in one too many devices, and when hospital workers don’t want to keep entering and changing passwords, they use personal laptops to bypass what IT has put in place.

This adds up to more vulnerabilities because rogue devices become conduits for data loss when used to access patient records outside the hospital’s cloud services without tight security controls. As with most organizations that handle extremely sensitive data, the exposure risk in the healthcare industry is potentially high. To mitigate these susceptibilities will begin with identifying top threats and figuring out how to safeguard patient data.

CYBERSECURITY CONCERNS IN THE HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY

Why is the healthcare sector a magnet for hackers? After Social Security Numbers, patient data is the second most at-risk information, and breaches originate from within the hospital.

Unlike financial institutions, which are heavily protected, hospitals are subject to numerous hack attacks because they are a bit lax with introducing more stringent security measures. When hackers get their hands on health records and related data from high-profile patients, they can easily make money selling pictures, medical records, addresses, and even sensitive financial data to the highest bidder. In turn, a patient’s information can be used to commit fraudulent activities like blackmail.

The following are examples of cybersecurity threats and how to protect patient data:

  • mHealth — Patient information is now accessible on inter-connected mobile devices, which means an increased potential for security breaches and attacks on dated malware protection. Innovative solutions such as Network Access Control (NAC) can help secure hospital systems and keep healthcare records safe.
  • Ransomware — This is arguably the topmost security concern for hospitals worldwide because, at its worst, a single infection can obliterate vital data, subsequently delay patient care, affect productivity, and force a HIPAA breach notification. Preventing a ransomware intrusion should begin with installing anti-malware and antivirus on all hospital devices. Secondly, all employees should be trained on ransomware recognition, prevention, and recovery from an attack. The third approach of preventing malware propagation is to scan all hospital websites and incoming emails using a reliable cloud provider then encrypting all hard drives.
  • Employee Mishandling of Patient Data — Security breach incidents in the healthcare sector are orchestrated either by disgruntled employees or people who infiltrate hospital systems for the sole purpose of stealing and selling patient data. To mitigate insider abuse of patient data, hospitals should have security systems and tools in place that monitors, audit, and shows unauthorized data exfiltration of patient information.
  • Unintentional Insider Threats — While there has been an uptick in adopting security protocols, some hospitals still use dated frameworks that are not risk-based. Consequently, unintentional mistakes such as misplacing a patient’s file or an underperforming security system end up compromising a hospital’s integrity. While mistakes do happen, the healthcare industry should invest heavily in risk-based security frameworks and train their employees in cybersecurity practices because they are, in essence, the hospital’s first line of defense in the event of a cyber intrusion.
  • Threats from the Supply Chain — Hospitals interact with various vendors who can potentially threaten their IT health. Transactions with the outside world are unavoidable so, it is the supply chain’s prerogative to set up secure supplier selection criteria that ensure vendors are adequately vetted.

BEST PRACTICES WITHIN THE HEALTHCARE SECTOR

Data security solutions such as cloud-based technologies are becoming more readily available. They are arguably the most cost-effective and scalable solutions a hospital can adopt as they allow seamless data protection through encryption, including access monitoring and real-time logging and reporting of unauthorized activity.

Educating hospital staff on the importance of cybersecurity is vital because most data breaches result from a lack of knowledge or complete negligence of hospital protocols. Contact us for more information on innovative cybersecurity solutions and maintenance, employee best practices, HIPPA compliance software development, cloud technologies, and much more.

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