Importance of Cybersecurity in Healthcare and Best Practices

Last updated: January 4, 2024

While the rampant digitalisation of the healthcare industry has improved the quality of the services provided, it has also opened up organizations to a variety of cyber attacks. In 2022 alone, ransomware attacks on healthcare organizations increased by almost 95% (HIPAA).

In addition, considering the sensitive information handled by healthcare organizations, it becomes paramount for them to invest in robust information security measures to safeguard their stakeholders’ data.

Let’s dive into the importance of information security in healthcare and the best information security practices to follow.

What Is Information Security?

Information security or InfoSec is concerned with securing data and information in your organization to maximize privacy, security, and accessibility. Having a proper information security policy can help you set guidelines and standards for managing information within your organization.

In modern healthcare, where technology is deeply integrated into almost every aspect of operations, this means your information security posture should cover all your systems, software, and infrastructure.

Why Is InfoSec Important in Healthcare?

Healthcare data can be rewarding to hackers since it contains personal and sensitive information of your patients and other stakeholders which they can sell on the black market. Unlike other forms of sensitive data such as PIN and account information which can be easily changed, healthcare information has a longer-term value for malicious hackers. Therefore, healthcare organizations are frequently targeted and there is a need for robust information security procedures and systems.

Read on to learn more about why information security is essential for healthcare organizations.

1. Increased Cyber Threats

With how lucrative healthcare information is and the general lack of proper information security infrastructure, the healthcare industry is one of the most targeted industries by cyber criminals. The Ponemon report identified the four most common types of healthcare cyberattacks:

● Ransomware

● Business email compromise (BEC) attacks

● Cloud compromises

● Supply chain attacks

Through ransomware attacks, hackers can hold your valuable data hostage and force you to pay expensive ransoms to recover it. While paying the ransom can help healthcare providers bounce back from such attacks faster, there is no guarantee this would prevent data loss. In fact, most healthcare organizations are only able to recover 65% of their data, even after paying the ransom.

BEC attacks often take the form of social engineering, phishing, and spoofing. Through this, hackers try to manipulate their targets into giving away information or access by pretending to be legitimate users. According to the Ponemon report, over 64% of the surveyed organizations believe they are susceptible to BEC attacks.

Healthcare organizations remain highly vulnerable to cloud compromise attacks as well, with over 75% of them reporting they have experienced cloud storage breaches. Cloud storage breaches can allow unauthorized users to access and alter information stored in clouds.

Supply chain attacks refer to attacks targeting less secure parts of a supply chain. Over 50% of organizations surveyed for the Ponemon report claimed they had experienced supply chain attacks, leading to complications in the medical procedures and longer stays.

The cyber threat landscape requires healthcare organizations, which hold valuable and sensitive data, to invest heavily in building information security practices.

2. Expensive Disruptions

The cost of cyber attacks cannot only be measured in lost data and the ransoms paid — but must also take into account the disruptions in operations until the healthcare provider recovers. In 2020, ransomware attacks cost hospitals $20.8bn due to downtime and disruptions (Comparitech, 2021).

Losing access to patient information during a ransomware attack can affect your ability to care for your patients and put their safety at risk if hackers decide to alter their medical information. The Ponemon report showed that 64% of the organizations reported delays in healthcare procedures and tests and 24% reported an increase in mortality rates due to ransomware attacks.

The significant correlation between cyberattacks and disruption of day-to-day activities shown in the report indicates organizations need to consider information security as a core function necessary for business continuity.

3. Higher Regulations and Compliance

Healthcare is one of the most regulated industries in the world. Failing to comply with the regulations in place to protect customer data in healthcare can lead to heavy fines and penalties as well as a loss of reputation for your organization.

Adopting a strong InfoSec policy and committing toward information security can make your compliance with legislation such as HIPAA and GDPR easier.

4. Reliance on Humans

The healthcare industry is a service industry highly dependent on human resources to provide quality patient care. Human error increases the risk of falling prey to cyber attacks such as phishing and social engineering where malicious actors pretend to be legitimate users to access sensitive information. Having a proper information security structure in place is essential to prevent such incidents.

By adopting a strong information security policy, you can educate your staff on information risks and risk management as well as provide them with the tools necessary to deal with threats. With a consistent and clear information security procedure, your internal processes become streamlined and efficient, improving your everyday operations as well.

While it is not possible to entirely eliminate cyber attacks, you can ensure your organization is well prepared to deal with any effects of such attacks by following information security best practices.  

Best Practices

With the increasing amount of cyber threats, it’s now more important than ever to accurately assess risks and implement best practices for information security. Some of the best practices you can follow include:

Increase investment in information security – Organizations understand information security is not just an expense. It is an investment that can provide substantial positive ROI to your organization when managed correctly. By increasing investment in your information security, you can implement customized security solutions designed with expert guidance for your organization.

Implement customisable security solutions – Relying on a single software tool to implement your information security can create a ‘security monoculture’, where all systems run the same processes, within your organization. It may create identical and easily exploited vulnerabilities in your system. But layering multiple security products can create redundancy and longer learning curves. To prevent this, ensure your information security solution is customized for your organization.

Conduct penetration testing – By conducting internal and external penetration testing, you’ll be able to identify system vulnerabilities and improve your cyber resilience. Penetration tests or pen tests help you prevent future attacks and breaches by simulating cyber attacks on your system. They are also referred to as white hat or ethical hacking.

Improve access management – Since healthcare is an industry dependent on contractors such as physicians and facility workers, a zero trust security model can be a good fit for it. The zero trust security approach requires all users from inside or outside the organization to be continuously authenticated and verified before being granted access to data and applications. Through this, only verified users are able to access the needed information at the right time.

Leverage automation – Through automating repetitive tasks such as user authentication, you can free up your resources and streamline your business processes. Automation also enables you to respond immediately to data breaches by activating mitigation protocols as soon as a breach is detected.  Frequent risk assessments can be automated as well, ensuring you stay on top of the changing business environment.

Improve cyber resilience – A cyber resilience strategy is based on the understanding that cyber attacks may sometimes succeed. But it ensures your business continuity by responding quickly and efficiently to the attack and provides access to critical information when systems are down. Adapting a threat-centric mindset can help you improve your cyber resilience by anticipating attacks and putting controls in place.

Following best practices and implementing a solid information security policy can help your organization safeguard your customer data and stand out from the rest.

The Way Forward

Healthcare is an industry based on trust but with the increasing concerns surrounding cyberattacks, organizations need to demonstrate their commitment to safeguarding their stakeholders’ data. Implementing a robust information security strategy is essential to ensure they are able to provide the best possible care to their customers.

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