Healthcare IT Security and Compliance: A Complete Guide

By Kasey Hewitt

Posted on Aug 26, 2020

The healthcare industry is rapidly embracing web and cloud-based technologies for increased convenience and improved patient care. However, with these advancements comes new vulnerabilities that can threaten network security and compliance. Because hospitals and other healthcare facilities gather large amounts of sensitive patient data, they have quickly become a highly-desirable target for hackers.

This has brought on unforeseen challenges for the healthcare industry, which ranks eighth out of eighteen for network and application security when compared to other major U.S. industries, according to SecurityScorecard’s 2019 Healthcare Cyber Security Report.

As the industry continues to adapt the way it manages patient data, maintaining cybersecurity compliance will prove to be a key priority for healthcare organizations.

What is healthcare data security?

While all organizations are responsible for securing their data, this is especially true for healthcare. The industry is quickly becoming a target for hackers, as facilities often have a great number of staff members using various devices to access critical healthcare data. By connecting to the expansive Internet of Things (IoT), organizations open themselves up to additional vulnerabilities via network-connected devices that may not be as easily secured as the organization’s internal network.

More importantly, accurate healthcare data can be the difference between life or death for patients who rely on advanced medical devices. These devices are increasingly connected to the internet, and while this improves healthcare providers’ ability to treat patients, it also heightens the risk of cybersecurity threats.

Why is compliance important in healthcare?

Due to the sensitive nature of healthcare data, the industry has a unique responsibility to protect cybersecurity ecosystems. According to the HIPAA Journal, healthcare data security is an important element of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Rules. These rules require covered entities to implement a risk management program for ensured security. If organizations fail to comply with HIPAA data security requirements, the consequences of poor cyber risk management could be high. Organizations may receive a violation or fine in addition to reputational damage and business losses stemming from an uneasy public.

5 threats to the security of healthcare data

Healthcare data is extremely valuable to hackers, as medical records can be used to impersonate identities, receive free healthcare, or file fraudulent claims. Cyber attackers typically steal patient data to resell for a profit, whether it be to other hackers on the dark web or the organization from which it was originally stolen.

Take a look at 5 of the leading threats to the security of healthcare data:

1. Ransomware

Ransomware attacks in healthcare involve stealing an organization’s data in order to sell it back to the owner for a ransom. Oftentimes, if the hacker does not receive payment, all encrypted files will be deleted and lost entirely. When organizations are unprepared for this type of attack, it can create challenges in day-to-day operations by prohibiting access to critical files.

2. DDoS attacks

The goal of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack is to disrupt network access and compromise a network to the point of inoperability. Attackers infect computers and other devices with malware, which effectively turns each one into a bot that gives the hacker remote control over the network. These attacks make it difficult for patients and healthcare providers to access patient portals, client websites, and patient records. There are many different ways that cyber criminals can carry out DDoS attacks, and it’s important that organizations understand which type they are facing so the risk can be properly mitigated.

3. Insider threats

Many healthcare organizations mistakenly let insider threat monitoring fall to the wayside and instead focus security efforts on external threat actors only. Whether they are acting out of negligence or carelessness, or they’re motivated by a financial gain of some kind, insider threats can cause great damage to an organization’s network because they have internal access and knowledge about network setup and vulnerabilities. For this reason, social engineering and employee training is key to mitigating insider threats.

4. Electronic medical records (EMR)

Electronic medical records (EMR) contain the medical, prescription, and treatment history of a patient. EMRs are a convenient way to track patient data over time and monitor vital parameters. These records are typically stored in a cloud network, putting the files at an added risk of exposure, especially if the data is stored in a country that doesn’t have the same data security or intellectual property laws.

5. The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)

The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) refers to the various medical devices and applications that are connected to a healthcare organization’s network. While the IoMT can help streamline access to patient or treatment data, it also opens up organizations to hundreds of additional points of vulnerabilities. Through wearable medical devices for patients, hackers can gain access to a network, putting an entire health system’s network infrastructure at risk.

How to maintain compliance and security in healthcare IT

An effective cybersecurity risk management program will enable organizations to proactively monitor compliance and protect their network.

Here are some key strategies for maintaining compliance and security in healthcare IT:

Continuous Monitoring

The threat landscape is constantly advancing, and traditional point-in-time assessments only provide users with a snapshot of their cybersecurity posture in a single moment. These strategies allow organizations to drift in and out of compliance amid evolving regulations. Continuous monitoring is crucial for maintaining and demonstrating compliance because organizations are able to address the risk in real-time.

Third-Party Risk Management

As more healthcare organizations move toward cloud-based services, a third-party cyber risk management program (TPCRM) is critical to ensuring the security of your network ecosystem. Third-party vendors often handle various day-to-day operations, and if they experience a data breach, your organization will also be at risk. This is why it’s important for organizations to monitor the cybersecurity of their third-party vendors, distributors, and service providers, in addition to their own.

Web Application Security

Web application security is the process of securing services like websites, patient portals, and other online-based applications. While it may be among the most difficult risks to manage, it is crucial for maintaining a compliant IT network as it involves maintaining comprehensive security programs across the supply chain. Additionally, as the IoMT continues to expand, the need for extensive web application security rises.

Access Controls

Insider threats are a great risk because of the extended access that a user likely has within a network. These types of attacks can be mitigated through selective network access controls. By providing employees and other external users with access only to the assets that directly impact their role, organizations can cut down on human error, both negligent or malicious.

How SecurityScorecard can help

Healthcare is facing unprecedented challenges as organizations work to secure their IT networks while simultaneously maintaining security standards and compliance. SecurityScorecard enables organizations to achieve and maintain automated compliance mapped to industry security regulations, such as HIPAA and HITECH.

Our platform allows for the continuous monitoring of third-party risk, allowing you to identify, monitor, and mitigate threats as they come up. Additionally, our security ratings allow you to focus on specific issues by rating performance across 10 groups of risk factors, providing you with a holistic view of the security posture of any treatment center, insurance provider, or manufacturer in your ecosystem.

Cyber attackers are constantly adapting their strategies in an attempt to stay ahead, and when you factor in the evolving cyber threat landscape and expansion of the IoMT, continuous compliance monitoring is essential for healthcare organizations that manage copious amounts of sensitive healthcare data. SecurityScorecard provides an accurate view of risk so that threats can be prioritized and vulnerabilities can be patched.

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