The Top 6 Cybersecurity Challenges in the Healthcare Industry

By Kasey Hewitt

Posted on Sep 29, 2021

The healthcare industry has always been an appealing target for cybercriminals. From high-value patient data to a low tolerance for downtime that could disrupt patient care, cybercriminals continue to find ways to take advantage of healthcare cybersecurity practices. In recent years, the healthcare industry has seen a 55% increase in cybersecurity threats, turning attacks on healthcare providers into a $13.2 billion industry and making it a gold mine for cybercriminals.

Cyber threats will continue to disrupt the healthcare sector if providers don’t take proper measures to secure their network. Let’s take a closer look at the challenges facing the healthcare industry and how certain efforts can help to improve your cybersecurity health.

The top 6 cybersecurity challenges facing the healthcare industry

Cybersecurity challenges within the healthcare industry are increasing as the sector grows more dependent on technology to perform daily operations. Understanding these challenges can help to protect your organization from current and future vulnerabilities. Here are the top cybersecurity challenges that the healthcare industry needs to be aware of:

1. Malware and ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malware that infects devices, systems, and files until a sum of money is paid to the cybercriminal by the victim organization. Most common ransomware attacks start by clicking on a malicious link, viewing an ad with malware (malvertising), or phishing emails with a malicious attachment.

Innocently falling for these traps can cost your organization lots of time and money. When ransomware infects your network, critical operations and processes are slowed down or inoperable until the ransom has been paid to the threat actor. Ultimately, this soaks up funds that otherwise could have been used to invest in new technology or improve the standard of patient care.

2. Data breaches

The healthcare sector experiences more data breaches than any other industry. With healthcare having been impacted by an average of 2.8 million breaches per month in the last year, the need for proper device management and monitoring, as well as the protection of sensitive information is equally as important to providing medical care for patients.

The problem is that although legally mandated requirements from HIPPA are in place, most organizations don’t have the resources to stay informed with up-to-date security measures, protocols, and a knowledgeable IT department. This provides an open opportunity for cybercriminals to easily gain access to patients' social security numbers, contact information, prescriptions, and test results which can cause reputational issues for your organization and trouble for your patients.

3. Insider threats

Insider threats are exactly why data encryption and a zero-trust access strategies are vital to the security of sensitive patient information and data protection. While it is an unsettling thought, not all cybersecurity incidents are traced from employee negligence. With so much attention and money surrounding cybersecurity in the healthcare industry, disgruntled employees may decide to purposefully disclose patient information out of spite or benefit from the black-market demand for protected health information (PHI). Since employees may have knowledge of network setup, vulnerabilities, and access codes, employees with malicious intent hold the key to exposing your organization to a series of threats.

4. Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks

DDoS attacks are an attempt to flood an organizations' network with internet traffic to the point where it cannot operate or perform normally. These attacks are usually executed in conjunction with botnets or a ransomware attempt, which operate to overwhelm a network by sending massive amounts of data from millions of hacked computers. Like other cybersecurity challenges, DDoS attacks are especially harmful to healthcare providers who need access to the network to provide proper patient care, send and receive emails, fill prescriptions, access records, and retrieve information.

5. Cloud threats

Many healthcare providers are switching to cloud-based data storage solutions due to the simplicity of data retrieval and the enhanced security surrounding patient information. Unfortunately, not all cloud-based solutions are HIPAA compliant. Popular platforms such as Dropbox and Amazon Web Service do not meet the data security, privacy, or sovereignty HIPAA requires, making them an easy target for hackers.

In addition, some organizations may not encrypt data before sending it to and from the cloud, which can also create space for intrusion. To avoid this, organizations should utilize a private cloud or an on-premise data center that is responsible for securing and encrypting data regularly.

6. Phishing attacks

A phishing attack is an attempt to trick users into revealing passwords or personal information. These cyber-attacks are a form of social engineering and are most commonly found over email. An employee may receive an email from a hacker posing as a platform used by the organization, and say that their account password is no longer valid. If the employee is not properly trained on how to recognize these phishing emails, their ‘click’ to reset the password is all that a hacker needs to put your organization at risk. These attacks can cause healthcare organizations to violate HIPAA compliance or even be charged with a lawsuit from the patient whose data was exposed.

Improving your cybersecurity efforts

Knowledge is power, and enough of it can help to avoid cyber attacks at any level. Let’s take a look at the ways your organization can improve its cybersecurity efforts to ensure sensitive data is always properly managed and protected.

1. Establish a security culture

Creating a security culture is easy when it is built into the structure of your organization. Set up ongoing cybersecurity training and education courses for every team member to attend and emphasize that everyone is responsible for protecting patient data.

2. Protect devices

As the healthcare sector becomes more tech-savvy and dependent on mobile devices and tablets, organizations must encrypt data and support other protective measures to guarantee information security.

3. Implement anti-virus software

Anti-virus software can help support network security altogether; however, these systems require constant updates. With the everchanging cyber threat tactics, it is essential that anti-virus software is continuously updated to ensure your healthcare organization is protected at all times and against the newest threat attempts.

4. Control physical and network access to health data

Patient information should not be readily available for any employee in the organization. Establish a zero-trust policy and only grant access to protected information to those who need to view or use the data within their daily work operations.

5. Maintain good password hygiene

Create strong passwords, and then update them regularly. Strong passwords are typically 12-14 characters and include a combination of numbers, symbols, capital letters, and lower-case letters. Maintaining good password hygiene starts with a good structure, so enforce regular password updates, and ensure employees understand the difference between strong and weak passwords.

How SecurityScorecard Healthcare Solutions can help

While implementing certain cybersecurity efforts can help maintain a secure network, the constantly changing threat landscape against healthcare can be hard to manage without additional support. SecurityScorecard Healthcare Solutions offer healthcare organizations the ability to improve and monitor the cyberhealth of their entire ecosystem while safeguarding patient privacy and the health provider infrastructure. In addition, our services help businesses achieve and maintain compliance, manage and monitor all aspects of third-party risk, and provide expert assistance along the way. Learn more about how SecurityScorecard’s Healthcare Solutions can clean up your cyber health and request a demo.

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